Barcelona is my happy place. I’ve been three times, twice with family in 2016 and 2021 and once alone, on a semi-last-minute solo trip in June of 2019. That spring, I was in my second year of university (studying Modern History) and was unbelievably stressed by the pressure of trying to get my degree. In hindsight, I’m not too sure why that was the case, given that it was my second year and not my final year, which was mostly occupied by researching and writing my 10,000 word dissertation. But that said, I booked a three-day trip to Barcelona, bought tickets for The Sagrada Familia, Picasso Museum, and more. By the end of the three days, my feet were swollen and sore, as I spent hours each day walking up and down the city, but I loved each and every second of it.
I love Barcelona dearly, so when I saw this book on the Waterstones website, I had to buy it. It took a while to arrive, about three weeks to be exact, and I finished it in just over three days. The Book of Barcelona is a collection of incredibly immersive fictional short stories that all centre around the same character: the city of Barcelona herself. In all of these stories, some more than others, the city is clearly a character in her own right. This is particularly obvious in The Santa Anna Hotel by Lluvia Ramis, which focuses on a young woman and her love-hate relationship with Barcelona. Having visited once with her family as a child, she eventually relocates to the city as an adult and she “fell in love on arrival, and I’ve since struggled to capture her attention.”
This is also the case in An Exemplary Life by Borja Bagunyà, a fantastical story about a young man named Martí Cardona. Born weighing 10 pounds three ounces, Martí would soon become the tallest and heaviest human in the Guinness World Record, continuing to grow at a superhuman rate. An Exmplary Life is possibly my favourite from this collection. Despite how unrealistic the premise is, it reads with a profound level of realism that makes for a thought-provoking and emotional tale. The citizens of Barcelona, in response to Martís mere existence, are simultaneously introspective and ignorant, and the city is characterised by these citizens of hers.
Covering various genres, these stories paint an incredibly vast and varied picture of Barcelona as a city of fantasy, a city to experience. I would recommend both the city and this book to those keen to explore her.