If there's anyone who knows that guidebooks can only tell you so much about a city, its globetrotting author Jeremy Holland. Born in California but with an upbringing in Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and the United Kingdom, Holland returned to the States as a teenager to attend high school and college there, but his wanderlust soon saw him moving to Barcelona. Ten years later, one result is From Barcelona: Stories Behind the City. This is a fascinating collection of what the author calls "City-Lit" - narratives that, although fictional, nevertheless pay homage to the unique sights, smells and sounds of a place. The book is designed to inspire the reader to go exploring and live their own Barcelona adventure off the beaten track.
This second edition features revised versions of the original book's ten stories, as well as two additional stories. Between them all, there's something to suit every taste - and with a range of styles that keeps the reader guessing what each story (or page) will hold in store. Holland switches effortlessly from Gothic horror to historical fiction, from contemporary romance to crime thriller. Yet each story remains at its core an investigation into the heart and soul of Barcelona.
Each description of a place or person sings with the vividness of an encounter lived in real life by the author. As an expat, Holland approaches the city with the fresh eyes of one who hasn't become used to what might seem normal - and therefore invisible - to a local. But a decade in the city has also tuned him to the unique rhythms of the city. The author weaves historical fact through the stories and Catalan phrases are sprinkled liberally throughout, so you'll find yourself learning the language without noticing as you stay captivated by the stories themselves.
Whether you are following the narrator into tiny cafés and bars or being introduced to surly waiters and annoyingly loud neighbours, every description rings with authenticity. And whether the characters are swept along with the hot tide of people travelling on the metro system, getting lost down narrow alleys, meeting strangers for lunch or meeting malicious ghosts in old apartments, you'll keep turning the pages.
In short, this is recommended reading for anybody moving to Barcelona or simply stopping in for a visit. A guidebook that gives you a feel for a city while keeping you entertained - what better introduction could you hope for?