It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Madrid and Barcelona can sometimes be reduced to stereotypes, the two polar opposite metropoli (not unlike Moscow-St. Petersburg, Beijing-Shanghai, Sao Paulo-Rio de Janeiro. et al.), one a coastal city, polyglot and mercantile, often unruly or subversive; the other the landlocked center of a bureaucratic monarchy. Neither of those images ring true any longer, although regionalism and even football keep the idea of rivalry alive. Still, each is distinctive and both have become ever more popular tourist destinations since the end of the Franco regime in the 1970s, with “scenes” that attract the young from around the world.
Guidebooks and histories provide context and orientation. Any visit can be enriched, however, by in depth analyses of aspects of urban culture and fictional accounts that convey the “feel” of a place. One kind of writing that appeals to many travelers is an account by another traveler.
For the traveler who wants to see the cities in film, Madrid is the setting for most of Pedro Almodovar’s films, and Barcelona figures in his “All About my Mother.” The 2002 French film “L'Auberge espagnole” concerns young people from all parts of Europe studying and living in Barcelona. Alejandro González Iñarritu’s “Biutiful” (with Javier Bardem) takes place in an unattractive Barcelona. Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (also with Bardem) shows a prettier Barcelona. English director Ken Loach’s “Land and Freedom” covers some of the same ground depicted by Orwell in Homage to Catalonia, culminating in the betrayal of the Republican cause by the Communist Party.
George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia might not be the best guide to today’s Barcelona, but it shows what a city on the precipice of revolutionary change felt like. Like most of Orwell’s non-fiction it is powerful, direct prose.
The Time Of The Doves is, in some respects, the canonic Catalan novel of the 20th century. Written in 1962 by exiled author Mercè Rodoreda, the novel traces a woman’s struggles through and after the Civil War.
It was made into a film in 1982 directed by Francesc Betriu under the title "La Plaza del Diamante" (the title of the original Catalan book is La plaça del diamante, which refers to the Barcelona location near where Rodoreda’s character lives).
No fictional detective has covered Barcelona more intensively or chronicled modern Spain more thoroughly than Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s sophisticated gourmand Pepe Carvalho. The novels are very popular, they feature substantial amounts of food, sex, and politics, and there are plenty of them. There have been reprints and they are easy to find online, if not in your local library. Yes, the detective gets to travel in some cases, for example, to Buenos Aires.
There may be as much fiction set in Barcelona as in Madrid, but there does not appear to be a collection in English for Barcelona that is anything like the excellent Madrid Tales, a collection of stories with Madrid settings selected and translated by the prodigious translator Margaret Jull Costa. It includes some of the greatest Spanish writers starting with 19th century giants Benito Pérez Galdos and Emilia Pardo Bazán through to Carmen Martin Gaite and Javier Marías. Costa gives the reader a variety of characters and touches many parts of the city from landmarks to working-class districts in stories that are comic, tragic, or strange.
A young American writer, Ben Lerner, in his award winning Leaving the Atocha Station, provides a view of trendy Madrid, as well as politics and history, from the vantage point of an outsider, a poet on fellowship, who is in Madrid ostensibly to write a research-informed poem about the Civil War.
paniards write crime novels, thrillers, and variations on the genres. A dystopian Madrid is the setting for Rafael Reig’s A Pretty Face, whose main character is the ghost of the children’s book author murdered at the beginning.
Set in Franco-era Madrid, Winter in Madrid describes British secret service efforts to keep the Spanish out of World War II. Madrid itself is richly described, as is the political environment of the period.