Jane's Reviews > Cathedral of the Sea

Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones
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bookshelves: middle-ages, catalonia, reviewed, library
Read 2 times. Last read July 10, 2018 to July 13, 2018.

I enjoyed this book, a doorstopper but a page-turner. The setting was 14th century Catalonia and backdrop was the construction of a cathedral [Santa Maria del Mar] by the workingmen of Barcelona over a period of decades. The cathedral still exists today in the Ribera district of Barcelona: http://catholicbarcelona.com/2013/11/... and is a gorgeous example of the Gothic style. This church serves as framework for the main plot, concerning the Estanyol family.

To escape brutal serfdom, the father, Bernat, flees his cruel lord. With his small son, Arnau, he reaches Barcelona and stays with his sister and her family until, after a year and a day, father and son are free. The novel recounts their fortunes. Arnau befriends a lonely boy, Joan. Bernat 'adopts' Joan as his son and the two boys become as close as brothers. After Bernat dies, Arnau becomes one of the bastaixos, who load and unload merchant ships. More importantly, they carry heavy stones on their backs to build the church. Years pass in which Arnau falls into lust, is married [twice; first wife dies of plague], rises from humble beginnings to nobility and public office. He even fights in war to defend Catalonia. This war is known in Spanish history as the 'War of the Two Peters' [Guerra de los Dos Pedros]. Out of Arnau's deep friendships with a Jew and a Moor, he becomes a well-known moneylender. Then he is denounced to the Inquisition. What will be the attitude of Joan, who has become a Dominican friar and an inquisitor himself, towards Arnau? Joan is torn between his religious duty and his love for his brother.

I enjoyed the novel and could hardly put it down. I don't know if this was just the translation: but the writing seemed quite ordinary, nothing outstanding. It seemed like there was too much coincidence and sometimes the story fell into melodrama. Arnau was engaging, but he did seem too good to be true. All classes of people were represented. Battle scenes were well done. King Pedro the Cruel of Castille did actually try to invade Barcelona, as written in Pedro IV of Aragón aka Pedro III of Catalonia's Crónica. The sea battle was also described there. I learned something about that period of history and the socioeconomic conditions, when Spain consisted of individual kingdoms. In the author's note, he states the laws he used in the novel came from actual legal treatises of that time.
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Reading Progress

December 19, 2013 – Started Reading
December 19, 2013 – Shelved
December 19, 2013 – Shelved as: middle-ages
December 19, 2013 – Shelved as: catalonia
December 19, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
December 19, 2013 –
page 28
4.58% "Supposedly a Spanish Pillars of the Earth. We will see. Good so far. Serf and cruel lord in Catalonia."
December 19, 2013 –
page 50
8.18% "Relief--Berat and Arnau are now free."
December 20, 2013 –
page 123
20.13% "I haven't read far enough, but I think although the building of the cathedral is important, what the author is trying to show is the life of the people at that time, Berat's, Arnau's and now Joanet's [Arnau new 'adopted' brother]. I'm getting a good sense of the Barcelona of that period."
December 21, 2013 –
page 178
29.13%
December 21, 2013 –
page 319
52.21% "Story picking up momentum. How the author got rid of two of the characters [one sympathetic, one not] seem too convenient, also the identity of another..."
December 21, 2013 –
page 438
71.69% "Arnau marries again--to king's ward, a selfish, conceited character. He is elevated to nobility. He has a ward, Mar. I am still liking story but some parts are too melodramatic. I like explanations of Spanish history of that period. Battle scenes were good."
December 22, 2013 – Finished Reading
February 27, 2014 – Shelved as: reviewed
July 10, 2018 – Started Reading
July 13, 2018 – Finished Reading
April 3, 2019 – Shelved as: library

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Laurel Bradshaw I loved this one too. Listened to the audiobook, and more than once I sat in the car in the garage after returning home because I didn't want to turn it off....


Soneso It’s not the translation. I’m Spanish native and I have had exactly the same impression. The story is really “folletinesque”, characters totally flat and the narrative too linear with no depth at all. I would only recommend this book to those looking for quick and easy melodramatic readings, not actually as Literature.


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