Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Ildefonso Falcones - Cathedral of the Sea

XIV century. The city of Barcelona is at its moment of greatest prosperity; has grown towards the Ribera, the humble neighborhood of fishermen, whose inhabitants decide to build, with the money of some and the effort of others, the largest Maria cathedral ever known.
A construction that moves parallel to the hazardous story of Arnau, son of a peasant serf, who flees from the abuses of his feudal lord and takes refuge in Barcelona, ​​where he becomes a citizen and, with it, a free man.
While his best friend and adopted brother Joan studies to become a priest, young Arnau becomes a member of the guild of the stone-workers, soldier and moneychanger. A strenuous life which leads him from the misery of the fugitive to nobility and wealth. But with this privileged position he also gets the envy of his peers, who devise a sordid plot that puts his life in the hands of the Inquisition. He finds himself face-to-face with his own brother. Will he lose his life just as his beloved Cathedral of the Sea is finally completed?

Comment: This was my last read of november and I picked the book because I usually have my vacation from work in this month (slower time in the year) and this year I traveled to Barcelona. This book happens to be a fictional tale around real life events/situations that took place while one of Barcelona's most beautiful churches was being build, the church of Saint Mary of the Sea to use a literal translation. 
I really liked being inside that church, it's an obviously completely different style to the Sagrada Familia, which is Barcelona's ex-libris but the one featured in this book is from the medieval times and its construction was a form of at at the time. I was very curious to see history mixed with a fictional approach in this novel, so characteristic of the author's work.

In this story we follow the decades through the 14th century as the church designed by the people for the people finally comes to life.
Among the diverse people living in Barcelona during this time we get to focus on special characters who see their life move on and change while the construction of the church happens in the background and while kinds and powerful men make decisions not always fair nor safe.
The main character is Arnau, the son of poor man who runs from his master to become a free man. Arnau is the hero we all root for even though he has his own weaknesses. However, he is a good person and helps those he considers friends. Will he be as happy in his life as he is knowing he contributed to the construction of his beloved church?

This book, I would say, is pretty much along the same style and content of books like Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. They both follow fictional characters in an historical context while something documented in real life actually happened, making it the perfect blend of historical fiction and some romanticized scenes that allow us to appreciate the final product as a fascinating adventure through time.
In fact, this is the type of book where we want to know what happens next, where we see the good guys eventually get what's their due but at the same time they face many adversities.

I think part of the appeal is in the details of how life was for people back then because 1) we want them to succeed and 2) we like even more the fact we have contemporary amenities to make our life easier (and with more rights).
Personally, I don't like the tactic often used in these books (historical fiction in general) where we see the villains plotting the downfall of the "good guys" or committing acts that historical accuracy notwithstanding, are still unfair and sadistic according to western civilization's patterns nowadays. I can understand why these scenes exist, we need to follow the plot in order to see why some things happen but I can eagerly go past tht so I can see if the good guys can finally turn things around and end on top.

There is, like I alluded to in the beginning, a lot of historical notes and situations included in the plot. The author even adds a note after the end of the story where he explains some of the details used and how one can know about them in historical references. I think it's fascinating to think about some things having really existed. Some of the things he describes or informs the reader about did happen back in the 14th century.
All social situations aside (since this can be seen differently by anyone), the most interesting historical elements based on real documents are the ones related to the construction of the church. I liked learning a lot about that, especially because I was inside the church myself.
What was realistic to include but doesn't fascinate me that much are the battle references or the way people made a living with money lending and things like these. 

As for the fictional side of things, of course I rooted for Arnau and those he deemed friends and family. I think some characters end up not being positive or better people because the author wanted to move the plot along and the best way to create things to happen is through conflict rather than prosperity and friendship. I get it, antagonists are needed but there quite a few and their reasoning so often silly but well, that till happen nowadays, people are still (often) thick-headed.

This was a big book but it didn't take me long to read because of the intrigues and situations. Yes, I'd change a few details to better suit my preferences but in the genre, this was a good novel, my favorite from the author of the three I've read so far.
Grade: 8/10

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