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The Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones

The Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones

Review by Patricia de Hemricourt

Translated from Spanish,  The Cathedral of the Sea is an ambitious novel that reach its goal. Set in medieval Barcelona, it weaves the history of the city with the building of the cathedral and the life of a man in a fast pace narrative that integrates the rich history of the city with tragic love affairs, great emotions, betrayals, schemes and revenge.

In the first half of a fourteenth century Barcelona, the capital of the Principality of Catalonia, is one of the major maritime power of its time, dominating the sea trade, and expanding toward the sea. Close to the city, the pious residents of the poor district of Ribera decide to build a cathedral devoted to the local incarnation of the Holy Virgin – Santa Maria de la Mar.

The construction of that cathedral is a vivid and historically rich background to the life story of Arnau Estanyol.  Bernat, Estanyol’s father, is an indentured peasant who lost everything because of the powerlessness of the lower classes in that era.

Bernat comes from a long tradition of hard working peasants, but the cruelty of the knight ruling his land of origin forces him to steal Arnau back from the knight’s castle, where his wife is forced to work as a wet nurse.

So he comes toBarcelonato hide from the knight’s wrath, asBarcelona’s laws stipulate that whoever manages to hide there for a year, becomes a free citizen.

He initially finds refuge with his sister, who is married to a rich potter, but things do not run smoothly for Bernat and his son and many stories lie ahead. Thes multiple intricate storylines are masterly intertwined by Ildefonso Falcones to bring us a rich tapestry bringing the medieval period to life with a rich mix of drama, thriller and historical fiction that make the book impossible to put down

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