Cathedral of the Sea
Translated from Spanish by Nick Caistor
Ildefonso Falcones

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Hardcover/624 pages
ISBN: 978-0-525-95048-6
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". . . a poignant story filled with instructive historical details . . ."

Ildefonso Falcones’ first novel, Cathedral of the Sea, became a “publishing phenomenon” when it was released in Spain in 2006. Two years after winning numerous national awards, Nick Caistor has translated the book for release in the U.S. The hefty historical suspense novel follows the dramatic and tragic journey of Arnau Estanyol from rags to riches in 14th century Barcelona.

Estanyol’s mother is enslaved by Lord Navarcles, and as an infant he is rescued from the castle stable by his father, Bernat. As fugitive serfs, father and son escape to Barcelona where they are eligible to become free citizens after living in the city for year.

But life is cruel. After his father is hung during a serf revolt, Aranu embraces the Virgin Mary as a substitute mother. He becomes the youngest bastaixo, a port worker, who carries heavy blocks of stone on his back for the construction of the Santa Maria del Mar cathedral, a Catalan Gothic church built for the people rather than for lords and kings. The author provides extensive details on the architectural design and construction of this church, a backdrop for the majority of the book’s dramatic scenes.

Falcones’ fictional characters revolve around historical information gathered from King Pedro the Third’s Crónica. Arnau becomes a decorated soldier as King Pedro mounts invasions and sea battles to protect his trade corridors and land boundaries. He rescues two Jewish children during an attack by Christian fanatics. Later he becomes a wealthy “money changer,” but his happiness is constantly thwarted by his enemies and his own determination to avenge his father’s death.

This hero’s journey is filled with emotion and tension right up to the end when he is arrested as a heretic, betrayed by his boyhood friend, a righteous Catholic Inquisitor, and his wife. Falcones, a Spanish lawyer, has written a poignant story filled with educational historical details worth reading.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla