cover image The City of Marvels

The City of Marvels

Eduardo Mendoza. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $19.95 (418pp) ISBN 978-0-15-118040-0

Barcelona, chief city of Catalonia (historically a hotbed of anarchist and separatist activity) plays the role of a magical, protean character in this sprightly novel, a bestseller in Spain. The action spans the years between Barcelona's two economically disastrous World's Fairs of 1888 and 1929. Young Onofre Bouvila ventures from his parents' provincial farm to work in the city, where he begins his political involvement by distributing revolutionary pamphlets on the fairgrounds. Aided by the giant Efren, he becomes a con-man who sells hair oil, serves underworld boss Don Humbert, arranges for rivals to be bumped off, and marries the Don's lovely daughter, Margarita. But Onofre, a driven tycoon who becomes an arms smuggler, cannot forget his first love, an adoring, wretchedly skinny anarchist named Delfina. Nor can he resolve his feelings for his fathercalled the americano since his return from a trip to Cuba with a white suit, a monkey and fraudulent schemes. Unfortunately, the characterization remains opaque, though the novel entertains and informs with its panorama of Catalan politics and social life, the advent of cinema and flying machines, and amusing cameos of Rasputin and Mata Hari. (October)