Today’s spotlight shines on a new book in the realm of historical fiction:
The Dream of the City by Andres Vidal
The Dream of the City
by Andrés Vidal
Publication Date: November 24, 2015
Open Road Integrated Media
eBook; 557 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Part love story, part chronicle of the modernist years of Barcelona and a society about to change irrevocably, The Dream of the City is an homage to the genius of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926)—an exciting historical novel in which we tour the most bohemian parts of Barcelona.
In Barcelona, at the beginning of the 20th century, the destinies of two families, the Jufresas and the Navarros, converge: Francesc Jufresa is the head of the bourgeois family which runs the most renowned goldsmith workshop in the city. His daughter, the beautiful Laura, rejects the limited future of a housewife and mother to work with the brilliant Gaudí on the sculptures for the Sagrada Familia. Juan is the head of the Navarros, a poor family whose members must work hard to survive. Dimas, the first born, embodies his father’s hopes and resents the dangerous and ill-paying work of a streetcar mechanic. When the independent Laura and the ambitious Dimas meet, the encounter will change their lives forever.
Andrés Vidal is the pseudonym of Marius Molla. He is the author of two other novels that were successes in Spain: Inheriting the Earth (2010) and The Dream (2012). By training the author is an industrial engineer in Barcelona. Follow Andres Vidal on Facebook.
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Tuesday, November 24
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Ten years later, the
big city, darkened with shadows, passed again before Juan de
Navarro’s eyes. It was a winter evening in 1914 and the streetlights
of the main streets downtown glimmered like fireflies above the
cement. Streetcar line 46 was moving toward Horta. The pedestrians
were indifferent to the machine that would shoot off the occasional
spark. Juan found it impossible to look away from the passing
landscape; how it had changed in recent years. In the meantime, the
streetcar continued gliding over the iron tracks almost without a
rattle. That day, the first of March, was coming to a close, with
little light remaining on the horizon where the beautiful, jagged
massif of Collserola rose up. Juan remembered then the Sundays in the
past when he used to go up there, amid the smooth, slanting limestone
and the cane apple trees, to enjoy a picnic in the countryside and
the glorious view the location offered. When his family was normal,
A boy with his hands
in his pockets and a beret covering the better part of his head
smiled at him. Juan returned the gesture with his one still-useful
hand. Soon he would arrive at the ancient town of San Martín de
Provensals, now a part of Barcelona thanks to the plan thought up by
Ildefons Cerdà the century before. When Juan began to think of all
the changes he’d seen, he couldn’t help but feel that his life was
turning in the opposite direction; while the city seemed to know no
limits to its growth, he felt smaller and smaller all the time. Since
Carmela had left him twenty years back, his life had been in constant
After passing the
intersection of the Avenida Argüelles and Calle Valencia, Juan stood
up. Despite his tall stature, it was hard for him to make his way
through the people, who were so tightly packed in the streetcar that
the cold could scarcely penetrate inside. The ticket taker looked at
him askance before his eyes came to rest on a boy who was pressing
the fifteen cents for the ticket into his hand. Juan knew very well
that the man disapproved of the free access that the veteran drivers
conceded him, but he didn’t put up a fight.
He approached the
conductor’s post to say good-bye. Carles had been his coworker until
the accident and was also one of the most strident voices among those
who clamored for him to receive a pension. Though it never did
arrive, at least he could travel for free on the lines where his old
friends were in charge.
tomorrow, Carles. And thanks,” Juan said, raising his corduroy
cap. He uncovered a nest of chestnut hair with a glimmering bald spot
at its center.
“See you later,
Juan. Tell your son not to come in late. Things are getting rough
down in the bays and he doesn’t want to end up looking bad.”
“I’ll tell him,
for his sake and mine,” he answered.
Dimas was still
working in the repair shop. The idea that his son might lose his job
gave Juan an empty feeling in the pit of his stomach. While he got
lost in these thoughts, his hand caused the coins in his pocket to
jingle: six reales
he’d been paid in Doña Inmaculada’s textile store. From time to
time, friends from the neighborhood would send Juan on little errands
that served more to keep Juan feeling useful than to earn him money.
It had been a while since he’d mentioned these chores to his son. The
boy saw it as taking alms, and he wasn’t exactly wrong: That day,
Juan had made one and a half pesetas carrying packages up and down
through the city nearly the entire day, a pittance compared to what
he’d made as a conductor ten years back. Moreover, if he did make it
to the end of the month, it was only because he didn’t pay for the
streetcar. No one would hire a man with only one good arm, and his
chance for a job was even less with the flood of immigrants
constantly flowing into the City of Counts. Juan resigned himself to
what the present offered, and that was better than nothing.
accompanying his steps, Juan descended from the streetcar. The stop
had been inaugurated only recently, just beside the Sagrada Familia,
perennially under construction. His other son, the eight-year-old
Guillermo, went to school nearby. When he looked up, he saw the
church scaffolding was empty: the workers had already gone home. At
that moment he couldn’t help but solicit a bit of help from that
supreme being who dwelled between the incomplete towers driving into
the sky. Juan left behind the vacant lot that surrounded the future
basilica and walked along the Calle de Mallorca until he crossed the
Calle Igualdad. That was where he lived.
He began his trek up
to the top floor, his breathing heavy. At fifty-two years of age, his
weary legs couldn’t hold up the way they had when he and Carmela
first arrived in the city. It had been impossible to make a living in
his village, and they had emigrated together. Back home, people spoke
of the wonders of Barcelona; they said it was full of opportunities,
and it was true that he’d found work as soon as he got there. The
misfortunes would come later: The city, like a riled beast, had
revealed its ruthless claws.
The wooden steps now
creaked beneath his threadbare shoes. There weren’t many floors to
climb, only four, but Juan had to stop and rest a moment on each
landing to catch his breath.
Guillermo exclaimed from the hallway. He ran to Juan when he heard
the door of their tiny apartment — just two barely furnished rooms
Juan took off his
cap and jacket and left them on the rack at the entrance. He kissed
Guillermo and asked after Dimas.
“He’s in his
room,” Guillermo said, referring to the bedroom the two brothers
shared. “He just got home.”
The boy wasn’t
really Juan’s; he belonged to his brother, Raúl, who had suffered
the worst consequences of the Tragic Week in 1909. His wife,
Georgina, the one the boy owed his blond hair and blue eyes to, had
gone along with Raúl during the wave of protests against the
conservative government of Antonio Maura between July 26 and August
2. Once again, it had been the poorest of the poor who were called
upon to maintain control of the Moroccan Protectorate in the Second
Rif War. The war had been a folly of the Spanish administration,
still stinging from the loss of Cuba and the Philippines only a few
Men and women raised
barricades and faced off against the ruling powers in the streets of
Barcelona. The Catholic Church was also affected: convents, churches,
and schools were burned to the ground by the hands of an enraged
populace. Martial law and a state of war were declared inside the
The conflict ended
after a fierce repression: more than eighty were dead, nearly two
hundred were sent into exile, and seventy life sentences were meted
out. The unions and the secular schools were closed down
indefinitely. The iron hand tightened its grip on the working class
and the more liberal sectors of society.
To Juan, it seemed
like it was only yesterday that he’d gone to the police station to
pick up Guillermo, then only three, his cheeks red with mourning.
From that moment on, the boy had no one but him and Dimas.
“Help me make
dinner,” said Juan. “That way you can tell me how your day
at school went.”
with a smile and took his place beside him in front of the charcoal
stove. Juan didn’t want to bother Dimas; he thought he must be very
tired from work. He would let them know when he was ready.
With the remaining
potatoes and carrots from the pantry, father and son made a soup to
be accompanied with a large loaf of bread. Guillermo talked
continuously about the lessons he’d been taught that day by Father
Flotats and Juan poured the broth into the bowls — with great
effort he had learned to get by with his left hand. The little one
said he had been the first in the class to be able to add four rows
of numbers and that they had given him a prize for his good
handwriting. Juan congratulated him. Guillermo’s intelligence was
nothing new; Juan had watched the boy grow and seen his intelligence
flourish much faster than any other child his age. His passion and
curiosity reminded Juan of Guillermo’s father, Raúl, whose
bright-eyed, nonconformist temperament had impelled him to fight for
the rights of the working class. How Juan missed his little brother,
who had decided to follow in his footsteps and escape the poverty of
“Go get Dimas
while I finish setting the table,” he told the boy, who obeyed
Juan listened to the
boy’s knuckles rapping the door while he put the spoons and glasses
out in the living room. Since Carmela had left them, he had always
been the one in charge of cooking and keeping the house in order.
He heard the door
closing and sat down at the square table. The tall, wiry shadow of
his elder son followed Guillermo. Juan didn’t know how he did it, but
the boy was the only one capable of touching Dimas’s tender side;
Dimas was distant with everyone else. When Juan saw his son’s angular
face, he knew the dinner wouldn’t be a calm one. Dimas sat down,
forming a triangle with the other two. Juan closed his eyes and gave
thanks to God for the food they were about to eat. Only Guillermo
said “Amen,” while Dimas rolled up his sleeves and began to
eat with savor.
With his spoon sunk
in the broth, Juan ventured a comment about what his former coworker
had said to him in the streetcar.
me things aren’t good around there. Is it true?” he asked, a bit
Dimas squeezed his
lips together. He knew Carles was an old friend of his father’s from
work, and if they had run into each other, it was because Juan had
been out running his goddamned errands. Juan saw the tension in his
son’s face, but the latter restrained himself, nodding curtly and
continuing with the conversation.
“Was there ever
a time when they went well?” Dimas asked wearily.
“When I was
him. He spoke with a heavy voice, a bit louder now.
“When you were
working, they were already bad. If not, why is your brother dead?”
Juan glanced sideways at Guillermo, who went on eating without
reacting. “The difference is, you never complained, everything
seemed fine to you. … But it’s not! We work more than eleven hours
a day and they pay us in scraps.” Dimas turned back to his
plate, hoping to calm himself down. He carried on with a somewhat
calmer tone: “I’m twenty-eight now and I’ve been working myself
to the bone since I was fourteen. And we only have enough for this.”
He raised his spoon with a sliver of carrot floating inside.
“Guillermo is smart and he could go far if he studied, but since
we don’t have a spare cent to our names, he won’t be able to take the
examinations for the university, and he’ll end up in the bay with me,
breaking his back every day to be able to eat potatoes for the rest
of his life.”
“I won’t work
in the bays,” the boy interrupted, with a convinced air. “Father
Flotats says I can be whatever I want to be. So don’t worry, I won’t
go to work with you.”
Dimas looked at his
brother and fell silent, seeing his face full of innocence. He
ruffled his already unkempt hair and answered: “You’re right.
Sometimes I talk nonsense.”
“So it could be
you’re a little dumb, don’t you think?” the child said with a
roguish smile, leaving Dimas no option but to smile back.
“A little bit,
he is,” Juan added, jovial now as well. And he cut a large slice
of bread for each of them and considered the argument ended.
Guillermo was right,
his father thought. Dimas wasn’t a bad kid, but he was fed up. For
years Juan had tried to instill in his son the virtues of respect,
love of hard work, and the importance of a steady job, and though he
knew without a doubt that these principles had stuck, he often
noticed that the young man seemed to live in a permanent state of
dissatisfaction. It reminded him of how he was as a young man, when
he refused to stick it out in the village and ignored the protests of
his family, rebelling at the thought of carrying on with his
existence in that hovel far from any progress or opportunity to
But now everything
was different, or that’s what Juan believed. In his eyes, Dimas had
never known real hunger, real misery, and maybe he didn’t appreciate
what he had.
Regardless, it was
undeniable was that he found his son’s perennial dissatisfaction
discomfiting. It reminded him of Raúl, and he was afraid that Dimas
would one day follow in his brother’s footsteps and do something
crazy, ending up as Raúl did . Keeping the smile on his face, Juan
grasped his spoon more forcefully. He refused to think that something
bad could occur that would disturb the security of their already
Andres is offering one lucky winner a copy of this book (ebook). Just leave a comment with on this post and you’re entered. The drawing will end at 11:59pm PST on 12/4/15. The winner will be announced here and contacted via email. Good luck!
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