Non-Fiction — For a first-hand account of the Spanish Civil War and its devastating effects on Barcelona and Catalonia, George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia remains a classic. Irish writer Colm Tóibin takes a more lighthearted look at post-Orwell Barcelona, with plenty of anecdotes and colors through the eyes of a güiri (foreigner) in Homage to Barcelona.
Palafrugell-based writer Josep Pla produced a number of first-rate travel books on the whole region, but his masterpiece is generally acknowledged to be the Cuadern Gris, about his experiences as a very young man launching a local newspaper and dividing life and work between his hometown and Barcelona in the 1920s. Twelve Walks Through Barcelona's Past by James Amelang covers a dozen hikes with historical themes.
Strictly for soccer enthusiasts, Barça: A People's Passion, by Jimmy Burns, is a dramatic history of the city's much-loved soccer team, the richest and possibly most politically charged soccer club in the world. Fans will also love the newly published Barça, the Year of Living Gloriously by sports enthusiast David Ross.
Barcelona by art critic Robert Hughes is a well-versed and witty articulation of the city's architectural and cultural legacy. According to the New York Times, the book is probably destined to become "a classic in the genre of urban history." To prepare for a visit to Barcelona's Museu Picasso, read Picasso, Creator and Destroyer by Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington and Picasso: A Biography by Patrick O'Brian, which is the most comprehensive examination yet of the artist and his work.
In Salvador Dalí: A Biography, author Meryle Secrest asks: Was he a mad genius or a cunning manipulator? Spanish resident-chronicler Ian Gibson scrutinized Dalí from a racier angle in his book, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí. In Gaudí: A Biography, by Gijs van Hensbergen, the author claims that Gaudí was "drunk on form," and that the architect still has not lost his power to astonish with his idiosyncratic and innovative designs.
Fiction — An important classic novel is Joanot Martorell's Tirant lo Blanc, the Catalan language's lesser-known 15th-century equivalent of Don Quijote, a knights-and-fair-damsels saga.
For a realistic account of what it was like to grow up in the austere days of post-Civil War Barcelona, read La Plaça del Diamant (Diamond Square) by Merce Rodoreda, set in the formerly working-class and now trendy area of Gràcia, and Nada by Carmen Laforet, which describes the hardships of growing up in a tyrannical household in L'Eixample.
Eduardo Mendoza's The City of Marvels tells a rags-to-riches story of a young farmer who arrives in Barcelona at the time of the 1888 Universal Exhibition and becomes one of the city's richest and most influential businessmen. Juan Marsé's Shanghai Nights, in contrast, depicts the disillusioned existences of failed anarchists after the Civil War in the grittier corners of Barcelona and Toulouse, and of their children who dream of a more glamorous world in an imaginary Shanghai.
The city's most prolific writer, poet, and essayist was Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, who died in 2003. He wrote The Angst-Ridden Executive, Murder in the Central Committee, and other popular works featuring the food-loving Barcelonan private eye Pepe Carvalho. In between describing Calvalho's unorthodox methods of solving his fictional cases, Vázquez Montalbán inserts an enticing number of (real-life) gourmet spots that make the reader's mouth water. Vázquez Montalbán also wrote Barcelonas, an in-depth insider guidebook that combines lively accounts of Catalan history, character, and culture with scathing wit and insight.
One of the most recent portraits of the city is A Short History of Sant Cugat by local English resident Michael Costello. It recounts (in just 90 pages) the story of one of Barcelona's most attractive suburbs, Sant Cugat del Vallès, a 20-minute train ride from the city center.
Many film directors have been enamored with Barcelona, and as a result the city plays a major role in several films. Barcelona (1994), directed by American Whit Stillman, is based on the director's own experiences in the city during the final stages of the Cold War. Susan Seidelman's mystery-comedy Gaudí Afternoons (2001) made less of an impact, in spite of some more colorful location work around the city and a star cast, including Marcia Gay Harden and Juliette Lewis.
All About My Mother (1999), an Oscar-winning film directed by Pedro Almodóvar, set many scenes in a surrealistically marginal Barcelona, which was in reality the seedy Camp Nou area. A recent film in which the city virtually plays a main character is Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), featuring Scarlett Johansson, Penélope Cruz, and Javier Bardem (Cruz and Bardem are now married); this film depicts a highly romanticized version of the city.
Taking a polar opposite view of the city, but again starring the chameleon-like Bardem, is Biudiful (2010), directed by the no-holds-barred Mexican Alejandro González Iñárritu of Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel fame. This movie depicts the seedy underbelly of the Catalan capital with the director's familiar gritty realism, focusing on a sub-world of petty criminals and drug pushers. Funded by the Barcelona Tourist Board it is not, but as a movie on a distinctly minority section of the population it rings a far truer note than Woody Allen's rose-tinted-specs tale.
The picturesque Costa Brava has also found its place in film history. British heartthrob James Mason and screen goddess Ava Gardner starred in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), which was filmed along the Costa Brava, focusing on Tossa de Mar. Los Pianos Mecánicos (1965) recounts the intrigues and affairs of a small idyllic Spanish village. It was filmed in Cadaqués (known in the movie as Caldeya) by Spanish director J. A. Bardem (the ubiquitous Javier's uncle), and several colorful scenes were also shot in Barcelona.
The two most famous Catalan composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were Camprodón-born Isaac Albéniz—a child prodigy who played in piano concerts at the age of four—who is known for his Iberia suite, and Enrique Granados from Lleida, who is best known for the lively Goyescas. Federico Mompou was an unassuming composer whose works include Charmes and Impressions Intimes.
The region's greatest creator of operas was the 19th-century composer Felipe Pedrell; his two prime achievements, Los Pirineos and La Celestina, are occasionally performed in the Palau de la Música. Barcelona's leading opera singer is Josep Carreras, who successfully survived leukemia in the late 1980s to become, alongside Placido Domingo, one of Spain's greatest tenors.
Pablo (Pau) Casals was one of Spain's most talented cellists before his death in 1973. You can visit his house-museum at El Vendrell near Tarragona. Joan Manuel Serrat is the region's most noted cantautor (singer-songwriter), and a champion for the region's rights. He sings many of his songs in Catalan.
One of Catalonia's most successful pop singers is Sabadell-born Sergio Dalma, who sings in Spanish and Castilian. His upbeat 2008 album "A Buena Hora" won him a platinum disc.
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