El aire que respiras is a declaration of love for books, but also for the city of Barcelona. After reading this great choral story, the city will not ever be the same. Or it will be –again- the one that was 200 years ago.
The death of an antique book seller from Barcelona and the encounter with an old friend from the Faculty draw the narrator to the lead of the ancient papers of Victor Philibert Guillot, a French fugitive, erudite, liberal, experienced man and collector of erotic books. These documents will be the pretext to tell the story of a select collection of forbidden books and all the persons that aim them: from the French generals that arrived to Barcelona conducting the Napoleon’s troops to the narrator, as well as several powerful individuals without scruples and local politicians that try to build in Barcelona a unique and great library.
El aire que respiras is a novel that spans an important period of time, from 1808 to 2011, but that focuses its action on the Napoleon’s invasion of Barcelona, its effects over the city and the consequences that it left in the inhabitants. Overshadowed by these facts, we witness a radical urban transformation: Barcelona stops being a walled city, almost Medieval, and gets ready to become a great, cosmopolitan capital with advanced ideas. Through the pages of this story, we see how is urbanized the most emblematic avenue of this Mediterranean city –la Rambla- and also the demolition of the walls and the growth of a new industrial phase, marked by European capitals such as London and Paris.
However, El aire que respiras is also the story of Carlota Guillot and A?ngel Brancaleone. She is daughter of the bibliophile and French fugitive. He, son of a soldier that reminded of an angel, is a bookseller. The same destiny that joins them signs their tragic and unfair condemnation. She is locked up in a convent for the rest of her life due to an adultery she never committed. He has to follow her luck, as it is held in the law, but above all because he is the only one who knows about her innocence. The ambitious Ne?stor Pe?rez de Leo?n, chief of police, has arranged everything and controls them like two puppets in his personal theatre. Nevertheless, he does not consider that times are changing at great speed and that persons, like books, have also their own fate.
El aire que respiras is indeed a historical novel, but a contemporary one too, which thinks about the past’s inheritance in our lives and which is written to move the reader. For this reason, besides the profuse documentation backing up the historical events, the feminine approach is undeniable and the women characters –Rita Neu, Carlota Guillot, the nursemaid Cornelia or Virginia the bookseller- have an overwhelming strength.
Thus, El aire que respiras is a chant of love for books, for the ideas that make the world spin, but also it is a story about the ways and habits of society, a novel about Barcelona, a historical narration rigorously documented, a tribute to literary Romanticism, a tale about idealized love, a women’s novel, a choral story, a satire about the corruptions of power and maybe something else. In its pages it is possible to find a historic period almost not considered by the Spanish literature. And it is also possible to cry and laugh. But probably its best definition can be those words usually repeated by the author, Care Santos: "I like writing novels which are difficult to define”.