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Review by Nancy Todd.
London born and living in Gibraltar as a child, Michael Eaude continues to cultivate roots of his near- Spanish heritage that have perpetuated his passion for Spain. He returned to Spain in 1989 and co-exists with what he considers the phony public relations efforts of his home city of Barcelona.
In Barcelona: the City that Reinvented Itself, Eaude presents an in-depth history, not only of city politics, but of plazas, bars, sculptures, literature, architecture, etc. He transports the reader to the heart of the city. His keen mind and eye take in the big picture as well as the innuendos and makes history fun to read.
An average of 10 million visitors a year seek Barcelona bliss. They are attracted to its shimmering sea, thousands of opulent Art Nouveau buildings, the medieval city, over 70 museums, and glitzy hotels.,
In this well documented book, another side of Barcelona is presented in contrast to what tourists experience. Eaude contends that the guide book images, perpetuated in part by the government of Barcelona, mask the real city.
This historical perspective presents facets that reflect on observations of writers like Richard Wright, Colm Toibin (Homage to Barcelona and The South), Orwell, and Robert Hughes (Barcelona, Great Enchantress and Goya). Referencing their books, Eaude describes a poor, tough, run down city with prostitutes, absinthe bars, and drugs.
Eaude describes examples from Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal, an account in the 1930s, to bring to light to the grim, destitute lives of people living in El Raval – the neighborhood adjacent to La Rambla, where millions of tourists meander every year. El Raval is much the same today with beggars, prostitution, and crime but with the addition of tourists. Other neighborhoods of Barcelona, while lacking the crime, are also poor so, while tourism brings in billions of euros to the city, the majority of citizens are excluded from benefiting from this wealth.
Eaude describes the Franco years and the dictatorship’s effect on people’s lives. Eaude rails against the politics of the Barcelona Olympics of 1992, a renaissance for the city, and berates the politicians of today for not being mindful of a life beyond the glitter.
An extremely useful section at the back of the book lists over 150 references: Works of Fiction, Non-Fiction, Chapter by Chapter, General Background Books, Articles, and Films. One could read for years about Barcelona and Spain. However, missing in this book is the dessert: an index. For those who wish to spot educate themselves, get a quick answer to a question, one cannot do this efficiently
Michael Eaude is also the author of Catalonia, a Cultural History, and Triumph at Midnight of the Century, an acclaimed biography of Arturo Barea.