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Cathedral of the Sea: A Novel Paperback – Bargain Price, April 7, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 167 customer reviews

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Paperback, Bargain Price, April 7, 2009
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Medieval Spain's caste system can't keep a good man down in this absorbing epic, a Spanish-language bestseller. Arnau Estanyol, son of a fugitive peasant, starts out in 14th-century Barcelona as a lowly porter who carries stone blocks to a cathedral construction site and ends up a rich moneylender who saves the city from pillaging and frees the serfs of a barony he acquires by marriage. Alas, his dizzying social assent and defiance of the feudal order provoke enraged aristocrats—his status-obsessed wife included—into siccing the Inquisition on him. Arnau is a kindhearted, somewhat passive figure who combines piety, industry and cosmopolitanism to challenge a corrupt, dogmatic church and a parasitic nobility. The plot features thwarted romance, war, plague, immolations and self-immolations, set in a Machiavellian world ruled by privilege, cronyism and brute force. The melodrama is sometimes laid on thick, but Falcones's rich portrait of medieval society is fascinating. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Believable and enthralling...so beautifully structured that the last sixty pages detonate like a string of firecrackers.”
The Washington Post

“An absorbing epic...Falcones’s rich portrait of medieval society is fascinating.”
Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Trade; Reprint edition (April 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451225996
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (167 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #843,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David W. Straight on May 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"Comparisons to Ken Folletts Pillars of the Earth are being made..." is a bit too deceptive for my taste. Cathedral of the Sea is a good historical novel--with a good translation--about life in Barcelona in the 1300's. The central figure, Arnau Estanyol, spends part of his life carrying stones for the building of a cathedral. But the cathedral is not a dominant factor in the book. In Follett's Pillars of the Earth, the building of the cathedral and its architecture was a dominant central factor. In the sequel--set in the 1300's like the review book--the cathedral is still a significant factor, though not as dominating as in Pillars. So if you're expecting to read about the architecture and the building of a cathedral in Barcelona in detail, you won't find it here.

Follett's two novels had a lot of depth, and dark mystery. Cathedral of the Sea is more straightforward--there are not the politics, the undertones, the buried (literally) secrets in Follett's novels, and the characters are often rather one-dimensional. But it does give a good sense of time and place, and life in Barcelona in the 1300s is probably less familiar to US readers than life in England at the same time. The Black Death sweeps into this novel, as it did in World Without End, and you'll also get a view (similar to Follett's works) of the contrast between the poor, the wealthy, and the nobility.

Some of the elements in this novel seem a bit contrived: Arnau rises from an orphaned runaway serf to become a major figure in Barcelona, and marries into the nobility. In Pillars of the Earth, Tom is a skilled artisan: the rise in rank is much less, and more believable. Unlike World Without End, the Inquisition enters the scene.
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Format: Hardcover
Ildefonso Falcones' novel, set in Catalonia, has been compared to Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, both positively and negatively. Pillars of the Earth is one of my favorite books, but I have enjoyed Falcones also, even though its style is different. Follett's book is a consistent page-turner; Cathedral begins more slowly but as the plot and characters develop, becomes a real page-turner also. Falcones includes helpful background history of Barcelona and 14th century Europe which will probably be unfamiliar to most American readers. You may want to skim the sections which describe the battles for control of the Mediterranean and for recapture of the areas of France which were originally Catalan. You can still understand the story without remembering the names of all those kings!

Cathedral was a best-seller in Europe. I would never have heard of it had I not found a copy in my hotel breakfast room in Bordeaux this summer. It was written in Spanish and has been ably, but not flashily, translated into English. The style is plain and direct. If you don't require heightened dramatic language in your fiction, then perhaps you will like this book.

The title reflects the setting of the book, Barcelona during the years when the cathedral Santa Maria de la Mar was built. If the descriptions pique your curiosity, google the cathedral and you will find wonderful pictures on various web sites. Its design is unusual and the story of its construction "by the people and for the people" of Barcelona is worth knowing. This book is a fine way to learn more about medieval Catalonia while enjoying the ins and outs of a complex plot, plenty of moral conflict, and interesting, unpredictable characters.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this for a vacation trip, and was absolutely delighted. I had not encountered the author prior to this novel. The central character, Arnau, is wonderful to follow through the years. I initially bought this due to my interest in cathedral building, and while that theme is there, it isn't as important as Arnau's journey.

It satisfied my interest in the culture and society of these times, especially the role and power of the Catholic Church, which apparently dominated most if not all aspects of a person's lifetime.

It has also a good understanding of the role of faith or lack, in these times. Arnau and his "brother" Joan take different paths and the contrast is evident. I will probably get the book referred in another review, Pillar, as that seems a good and more thorough recounting of the building aspect of a cathedral. But that doesn't diminish my appreciation for Cathedral of the Sea. Falcones is a gifted story teller.
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Format: Paperback
The excessive brutality to women in this novel makes it unreadable. As a professional historian, I appreciate the historical accuracy of rape and abuse perpetrated against women in the medieval world. Nevertheless, Falcones seems to revel in brutality against all of his female characters, who are - without exception - either victims of rape or noblewomen who use their position to perpetrate brutality on the women and men below them. The book begins with a brutal rape, followed by more and more rape of the same character. Perhaps I should have stopped there. But I read on, hundreds of pages of rape, forced imprisonment, plague, adultery, and more rape. Falcones does periodically bring moments of justice to his oppressed characters.

But he destroyed my trust as a reader when he transformed the main character's brother into a willing accomplice in abduction, brutal multiple rapes, and forced marriage. What caring brother and priest would do this to his brother and niece? I closed the book and cursed the author. Authors control the worlds they create. Falcones must have something dark inside him to twist even his sympathetic characters into the worst of misogynists.
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