The Irish author Colm Tóibín wrote this extended love letter to his second home during his second extended stay there in 1988, 10 years after he first left. He first arrived there in 1975, as a 20 year old recent college graduate, two months before the death of General Francisco Franco. Tóibín begins the book by providing a first hand account of those heady and uncertain days following Franco's death, when no one knew what freedoms would be permitted, or whether democracy would truly take hold in the country after nearly 40 years of civil war and fascist rule. A rich description of the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic), the center of the old city, follows, along with a brief history of the city, Catalonia as a whole, and its unique language, cuisine and relationship with Spain. Separate chapters are dedicated to the lives and influences of Antonio Gaudí, the Modernist architect whose unorthodox creations are featured throughout the city, including the still uncompleted Sagrada Família and the Casa Batlló, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró.
Tóibín also describes the major political and factions that dominated the city in the years preceding and during the Spanish Civil War, particularly the wealthy landowners and industrialists, who refused to provide their employees with a decent standard of living and occasionally beat and killed those who dared complain; the trade unions that arose in response to the inhumane treatment of the workers; the Anarchists, whose violent opposition to the Church and the wealthy elite led to the deaths of hundreds of priests; the Communists; and the Republican government, which ultimately fell to the rebels led by Franco and his colleagues during the Civil War.
In later chapters he explores smaller towns in Catalonia, including the medieval city of Girona, known for its Passion Play about the last days of Jesus Christ and the macabre and dangerous Dance of Death that only residents can attend; the Costa Brava, which has become a favored destination for tourists but still holds pockets of isolated beauty; and Llavorsí, a mountainous village that has also experienced a not completely welcome transformation due to the influence of non-Catalonians.
Throughout the book Tóibín compares his impressions of Catalonia during his first stay from 1975-1978 with his subsequent ones in 1988. The book closes with the preparations underway in the city for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, which seem to be disjointed, disruptive and a vague threat to that unique region.
"Homage to Barcelona" was a superb and beautifully written introduction to a city which I plan to visit for the first time later this year. At just over 200 pages it would serve well as a portable cultural guide to Barcelona and Catalonia, although it is now a bit dated nearly 25 years after its initial release. My only disappointment was that Tóibín only dedicated a couple of paragraphs to the region's leading authors and those non-Catalonians who have written about the city. I used the maps in "Everyman Mapguides Barcelona" and "Secret Barcelona" to help me locate the buildings and streets mentioned in [Homage to Barcelona], as Tóibín's book contains no illustrations or photographs.