Whether you’re going to Spain in reality or in your imagination, here are four fantastic novels set in the land of sun and sangria.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This book is one of the most entertaining of all time, if not exactly great literature. It’s set in Barcelona in the years following the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), when Franco was dictator and memories of the turbulent war were still fresh as wounds. The story begins when Daniel, the young son of a bookseller, visits the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He’s allowed to choose one book to take with him, and he’s drawn to a novel, The Shadow of the Wind , by an author named Juli án Carax . Daniel’s curiosity is roused but when he tries to learn more about the writer, he discovers that someone is collecting all Carax’s novels and burning them. More twists and turns lead to the depths of a delightfully Gothic labyrinth of a plot, one which will have the reader foregoing everything else to read just one more chapter all the way to the dramatic finale. The detailed descriptions of Barcelona bring the city to life and make it a joy to read whether you’re actually there or just doing a little armchair travel.
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Spain’s Civil War was sandwiched between the two World Wars and for this reason can sometimes be a footnote in European history. However, it was a brutal ideological conflict that pitted brother against brother and raised astonishing volumes of international support for both sides. Ernest Hemingway witnessed the war firsthand as a journalist in Spain during the 1930s, and this Pulitzer-prize-nominated book paints a vivid — and sometimes horrifying — picture. Hemingway’s love for Spain and the Spanish people is evident in his treatment of the characters, and the way he writes Spanish-in-English is a feat of literary genius. This book sheds light on an oft-overlooked chapter of the twentieth century, and the ending is made more poignant by the fact that, while the characters don’t know their ultimate fate, the reader can open a history book and make a decent guess.
Winter in Madrid by C. J. Samson
Like For Whom the Bell Tolls, this book also deals with themes relating to the Spanish Civil War. However, Winter in Madrid takes place in 1940, the year after the war’s end. Veteran Harry Brett is contacted by the British Secret Service to get in touch with Sandy Forsyth, an old school friend. Sandy is now a businessman living in Madrid, and the Secret Service is keeping tabs on some shady dealings he seems to be getting into. Harry agrees, but once he gets to Madrid he’s surprised to find that Sandy’s girlfriend is Barbara Clare, the former lover of Bernie, another of Harry’s school friends. It seems that Barbara has some secrets from Sandy, just as Harry has his secrets, and so does Sandy. And what happened to Bernie? This spy thriller takes the reader through glittering embassy parties and the devastating post-war poverty alike, all while examining Spain and Madrid just after the war. This book is best read while in Madrid.
The Lost Angel by Javier Sierra
If you need a lively pick-me-up after all the grim war stories, check out this book by contemporary author Javier Sierra. Most often likened to a work by Dan Brown, The Lost Angel is a riveting page turner from start to spine-tingling finish. Spanish historian Julia Alvarez’s husband is kidnapped, and she must unravel 5000 years of history to figure out why and how to save him. Scientific fact is mingled with just the right amount of imagination to make this a compelling read. A good part of the book is set in Santiago de Compostela, a charming city in the north of Spain — although the plot carries the characters through half the world before the last page is turned. This would be a great airplane book.