From Barcelona by Jeremy Holland

From the pen of Jeremy Holland, known in these parts for his excellent From Barcelona blog, comes the book of the same name. From Barcelona: Stories Behind the City, volume 1 (...a hint that volume 2 is in the wings?) is a series of short stories that span some of the more juicy themes that occur here in the capital of Catalonia.

In each of the ten tales presented in From Barcelona, the reader is introduced to a new subject matter or genre, some of which pay tribute to classic novels set in the city, others which draw on Catalan history and folklore, although the majority are best described as contemporary and completely original yarns. An example of the former is 'CSI Barcelona' which explores the murky world of telespammers in a detective story that evokes the spirit of Barcelona's most famous investigator Pepe Carvalho. In Holland's tale, the disillusioned Dr. Pep Caldet teams up with the passionate and driven Sergeant Montserrat Cubert to uncover the murder of an English football fan, in a dark tale that shows an eye-opening side of the city far removed from a sunny day on Barceloneta beach.

In 'The Crypt of Colonia Guell', Barcelona's most famous persona is brought back to life - the enigmatic architect Antoni Gaudi. Gruff, troubled, obsessed and a fervent Catalan nationalist, the story is an insightful exploration of Gaudi's character and his relationship with his lifelong friend and key client, Eusebi Guell - as well as a discussion on the complicated issues of Spanish/Catalan politics.

In 'El Funcionario' meanwhile a nameless man consults his lawyer in a Kafka-esque tale of local bureaucracy gone mad, in a tale that is sure to bring a wry grin to the face of those who have had to dance to the tune of pointless paperwork when relocating to this fair city!

Overall From Barcelona achieves exactly what it sets out to do. The book paints a true picture of Barcelona through a rich tapestry of stories: the reader encounters many of the characters one encounters in real life in Barcelona, and expats in particular will find plenty of their own experiences played out within its pages. Indeed part of the fun in reading these tales, from a Barcelona resident's perspective, is the many times you find yourself identifying with a character or situation - as well as seeing the places you are familiar with brought to life in prose form.

The author, Jeremy Holland, has described his work as an example of 'City Lit.', the name of a genre of work where the city itself takes centre stage over any one protagonist. Indeed, in From Barcelona, the city is the real hero behind the scenes, and for anyone who wants to know more about Barcelona, without dragging themselves through a drily-written guidebook, then From Barcelona is the perfect fit. Whilst its diverse narratives entertain, woven into almost every sentence are revealing facts and truths which educate and enlighten at the same time. Overall, From Barcelona: Stories Behind the City is a great collection of tales that capture the beguiling atmosphere of Barcelona and its diverse aspects.

Click on the link for more Barcelona book reviews.

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