After a long time, I have picked up a book in paper format. It came as a farewell gift from a very good colleague and friend of mine. I do not know how he judged my taste, but one scan of the blurb at the back and I was already looking forward to reading it. Originally written in Spanish, I was the happy, lucky recipient of its English translation. So, after reading The Black Book, I jumped on to this one.
And did I love it! I went through the 600-odd pages in five days flat. Falcones has described 14th century Barcelona in great details. In the backdrop of the construction of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar, we accompany Arnau Estanyol through his life and experience the fluctuating fortunes of his family. Often gut wrenching in the brutality of the family’s circumstances, the story always exudes this everlasting hope for a better tomorrow – with Arnau and his father taking the blows of life, natural and man-made, on their chin, making their share of sacrifices, moving on … in the simple hope of a better tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong, I am not romanticizing this or talking about being naive – its just their choices when confronted with impossible situations. And that’s the big word – its about the choices they make in those situations. Whether intentional or not on part of the author, the whole idea of the karmic cycle comes across very vividly in the story.
Falcones, while keeping the spotlight on the main protagonist, also does very well to weave the tales of other equally fascinating characters, whose roles in this story came across as more thought provoking. That of Aledis, for example, or of Joanet – such complex characters have been dealt with so masterfully and, if I may say, so unpredictably. They all have their human weaknesses – revenge, greed. desire, lust, deceit, envy… and, yet, in the shadow of the Santa Maria del Mar, they all find their unique purpose…and eventually their peace. Set in the backdrop of this famous cathedral, there is a distinct spiritual and philosophical flavour to the story, which I truly enjoyed.
There are notes at the end from the author regarding the historical accuracy and on separating fact from fiction. Rich in historical and social context, this is an excellent story with all the requisites to make for some positive, informative, and equally entertaining reading. Therefore, I gave it a 5-star rating on Goodreads
To my friend – thank you again for this wonderful gift!