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Author:
• Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Emili Rosales was born in 1968 in Spain’s Sant Carles de la Ràpita. He spent his childhood and adolescence in his home town before moving to Barcelona to study philology. He worked as a literature teacher and translator and currently is editor and contributor to the newspapers Avui and La Vanguardia. He lives in Barcelona and is a member of the Association of Catalan Language Writers.

Emili Rosales has written two poetry books:
Cities and Sea, published in 1989 and The Days and You, published in 1991.
He has also written four novels to date:
The Beach House, published in 1995, Lord of The Earth in 1997, While Barcelona sleeps in 1999 and The Invisible City in 2005.

The Invisible City became a best seller and has been translated into twenty five languages. The English version was published in 2009. It won the prestigious Catalan literary prize: The Sant Jordi Prize, was selected among the five best novels in Spain in 2006 and was short-listed in 2007 for the Prix Médicis Etranger in France.

Emili Rossell, the main character in the novel, is a young gallery owner in Barcelona, born and raised in Sant Carles de la Ràpita – like the author himself. One day he receives an anonymous parcel containing a copy of an 18th century manuscript written in Italian and entitled: The Memoirs of the Invisible City, written by Andrea Roselli, the Italian architect of king Charles III of Spain, who reigned from 1759 to 1788. This manuscript reawakens Rossell’s great childhood interest in the mystery of the so-called “Invisible City” in his home town, a riddle that even the adults around him couldn’t solve.

Emili Rossell mentions the invisible city of his “childhood games” out of the blue to his school friend, Armand Coll. After examining his encyclopedia, Armand informs his friend that: “Sant Carles de la Ràpita constitutes a mystery within the failed projects of the Enlightenment. It was first designed to be a grand, new city, but at some point the project came to a halt, no one knows exactly why… What was not yet a reality, soon became a pile of ruins. These are the ruins where you and your friends played and scattered pigeons”.

The author skillfully connects the past and present by constructing two parallel, intertwining plots in an architectural way. On the one hand, the aborted plans and unfulfilled dream of king Charles III of Spain and on the other hand, the remaining ruins of this ambitious scheme in the Ebro delta two centuries later. The relics of this unfinished work becomes the playground for the child, Emili Rossell and his friends, who are unaware of the history of these vestiges.

King Charles III’s biggest ambition was to replace Madrid with a new capital which he wanted built around the Ebro delta in Catalonia under the name of Sant Carles de la Ràpita. He wanted a similar city to the majestic Saint Petersburg, built by Peter the Great of Russia (1672-1725) on the banks of the Neva river.

This colossal plan does not materialise because of jealousy and political court intrigues. The senior royal court architect, Francesco Sabatini, who is put in charge of this gigantic project, takes the young Andrea Roselli under his wing. Everything changes when Sabatini discovers, through Tiepolo’s painting of Cecilia – intended as a present by her for her ex lover, Roselli – the romance between his wife, Cecilia and his trusted protégé.

In a jealous rage, Sabatini confronts Roselli and promises him that he will ensure that “his new city” will never exist, and “the privileges he had enjoyed so far will be taken from him”. Roselli knows that Francesco Sabatini is capable of persuading the king to bring the project to a halt, which he does.

What was destined to become a new capital, an ideal, perfect, great artistic and commercial city promoting trade between Spain and America, instead becomes a fishermans’ town. Sabatini has effectively destroyed Roselli’s career and promising future as well as alienating him. Nevertheless, some unfinished buildings will remain until the twentieth century as a witness to this agitated period.

The story also includes the mystery of the lost painting by the famous eighteenth century Venetian master, Giambattista Tiepolo. It goes missing soon after his death and Emili Rossell’s beautiful old friend, Sofia Mendizàbal, is desperately trying to find it two centuries later, by pleading the help of Rossell.

The plot contains the enigma around the hidden identity of Emili Rossell’s father. A secret well kept by his family and which haunted him during his childhood. He learns at an early age never to ask about the father he has never known, feeling a heavy hidden sense of shame and culpability. He loses interest as an adult but eventually discovers his father’s identity towards the end of the novel.

As we embark on an intimate journey with Andrea Roselli and Emili Rossell, we discover that they both have things in common such as a complicated relationship with women, whether it’s Cecilia with Andrea Roselli or Ariadna, Chloe or Sofia with Emili Rossell. Another thing they both share is having to settle accounts with their own past.

The Invisible City is an interesting, thrilling and intriguing story with an elaborate plot that manages to bring all the mysterious loose threads together in the end. There is a useful and abundant description of architecture. It’s a good insight into king Charles III of Spain’s reign and no doubt a great amount of research and maybe traveling by the author was needed in order to situate his novel in historical context. But most important of all it is the hymn of praise to Emili Rosales’ native home town, Sant Carles de la Ràpita.

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Author:
• Friday, April 27th, 2012

Colum MacCann was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1965 and studied journalism in the former College of Commerce in Rathmines, now the Dublin Institute of Technology. He obtained a BA degree from the University of Texas and was awarded an honorary degree by the Dublin Institute Of Technology. Starting as a journalist, he worked for The Irish Press, The New York Times, The Times, La Repubblica, Die Zeit, The Guardian and the Independent. He now teaches Creative Writing at City University of New York’s Hunter College.

In 2005 he was nominated for an Oscar for his short film, Everything In This Country Must.
He received the Hennessy Award for Irish Literature and the Ireland Fund of Monaco Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award.

In 2009 he was the National Book Award Winner for his novel, Let The Great World Spin.
In 2011 he received the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and in 2010 the Ambassador Book Award.
He was awarded the French Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2010.

He now lives with his wife and three children in New York.

Colum MacCann has written two collections of short stories and five novels to date which have been translated into thirty languages:
Fishing The Sloe-Black River 1994
Songdogs 1995
This Side Of Brightness 1998
Everything In This Country Must 2000
Dancer 2003
Zoli 2006
Let The Great World Spin 2009

Colum MacCann masterfully inter-connects the everyday life of people living in New York City in the seventies and makes one story out of what seems to be a series of short stories.

Let The Great World Spin starts with the genuine, illegal stunt of the French funambulist, Philippe Petit. Petit manages to successfully cross the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers in Manhattan on his tightrope at a tremendous height in August 1974, to the amazement and apprehension mixed with suspense of the onlookers down below in the street. This event forms the backbone and recurrent theme of the story, since each one of the characters has something meaningful happening on that memorable day and maybe they were also leading a “tightrope walk” kind of life.

Nobody knew in August 1974, one year after the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers were completed and functioning, at a time when U.S. soldiers were returning home from Vietnam, that in September 2001, the world’s attention would be focused on the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers with horror, panic and fear after their attack and tragic destruction. No one could have guessed either, that American soldiers would be sent to fight another war, this time in Iraq followed by Afghanistan, as an act of revenge instead of seeking other means for putting things right.

As MacCann puts it, referring to the tightrope walker, Philippe Petit: “The tightrope walk was an act of creation that seemed to stand in direct defiance to the act of destruction twenty seven years later.” A stunning contrast.

Colum MacCann depicts with great empathy, the suffering, loneliness, expectation and hopes of the various characters in his novel, in order to give his readers a sort of a kaleidoscopic picture of The Big Apple and its inhabitants in those years. A picturesque illustration of New York City which is described as an important character in the story in such an authentic way that one feels catapulted there among all these people.

There is the Irish monk, Corrigan, who wishes to live an ascetic life and likes to believe that he is a soul saviour but finds it difficult to reach a compromise between his beliefs and reality. He he has a good deal of compassion for the prostitutes working in his neighbourhood, the Bronx and actively tries to defend them. He seems to be at a loss about how to deal with his love of Adelita, the Guatemalan nurse, and his spiritual commitment to celibacy in the Catholic Church

Ciaran, his two years elder brother, has a completely different character. His view on life is dissimilar to his sibling and he tries, but never succeeds, in convincing his younger brother to change his ways. Ciaran ends up marrying the artist, Lara, who feels guilty after being involved with Blaine, her driver and now ex-husband, in the fatal car accident that kills Corrigan and his passenger, the young prostitute, Jazzlyn.

Then there is Claire and her husband, judge Solomon Sonderberg, who live on Park Avenue, an expensive area in New York and who are trying, each one in his own way, to deal with their grieving over the loss of their only child, Joshua, who died in an explosion in a coffee shop in Vietnam while being there as an American recruit.

In one of his interviews, Colum MacCann mentions that in his novel it all starts with the “angel” like figure in the sky, seen as a speck of dust to the people standing many meters below. Before the author goes down to explore the core of the city, where he tries to capture the voices of the New Yorkers, the ordinary people in the street “find what is meaningful for the human heart… Find joy and redemption” through the interesting different characters. People who form the heart and soul of this big metropolis.

The image of redemption is portrayed in the adoption of Jazzlin’s little twin girls by Gloria, meaning the end of the prostitution legacy of their mother and grandmother. Colum MacCann says in a conversation with Nathan Englander, the American author: “When two little girls emerge from a Bronx housing complex and get rescued by strangers. That, for me, is the core image of the novel. That’s the moment when the towers get built back up… It’s important to say that this is my own emotional response to 9/11”. McCann projects his optimism through his characters, by implying that there is always light at the end of a dark tunnel.

When asked which character he likes most, he says Tillie, the thirty eight year old black American prostitute granny from the Bronx but especially the Irish priest, Corrigan.

A very well constructed novel, like a spider’s web, where everything connects. The characters are painted with extreme authenticity. They all have the vulnerability in common and whether rich, humble or destitute, each one in his own way shares with the other, the need for love and recognition.