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Eduardo Mendoza’s classic novel about the birth of Barcelona as a world city, embodied in the rise of the ambitious and unscrupulous Onofre Bouvila

“Though historical in subject matter, this story of Catalonian enterprise and Barcelonan ambition is thoroughly contemporary in spirit” Jonathan Franzen

Stung by the realisation that his father is a fraud and a failure, Onofre Bouvila leaves a life of rural poverty to seek his fortune in Barcelona.

The year is 1888, and the Catalan capital is about to emerge from provincial obscurity to take its place amongst the great cities of the world, thanks to the upcoming Universal Exhibition.

Thanks to a tip-off from his landlord’s daughter, Onofre gets his big break distributing anarchist leaflets to workers preparing for the World Fair. From these humble beginnings, he branches out as a hair-tonic salesman, a burglar, a filmmaker, an arms smuggler and a political dealmaker, in a mulifaceted career that brings him wealth and influence beyond his wildest dreams.

But, just as Barcelona’s rise makes it a haven for gangsters, crooks and spivs, vice begins to fester in Onofre’s heart. And the climax to his remarkable story will come just as a second World Fair in 1929 marks the city’s apotheosis.

Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor

Reviews

Though historical in subject matter, this story of Catalonian enterprise and Barcelonan ambition is thoroughly contemporary in spirit.
Jonathan Franzen
A splendid piacaresque novel . . . Rich in humour, irony and parody . . . Lusty and ingenious entertainment
New York Times Book Review
Rich in eccentric, violent, fantastic, and horrible incident . . . A profusion of bizarre characters, and a fair quote of entertaining digression.
The Times
A novel of great variety and scope . . . There is much to delight . . . A very considerable, and an exhilterating, achievement
Scotsman
A large book, written in picaresque style, and full of incidental pleasures.
Observer
Not since Ragtime has there been such a treasure of rascals and riches . . . Brilliant . . . Mendoza is a prodigiously inventive author.
Chicago Tribune
A major work, a great novel . . . a satirical love song and an adventurous chronicle that delivers the wonders promised in its title.
El País
One of this season's literary landmarks . . . an extravagant, amusing, fantastic, and moving fresco of Barcelona.
Vanguardia