A prologue introduces this enigmatic novel, the protagonist relating a strange tale of obsession and reincarnation. Secluded and reflective, the young man has allotted only one year to put the mystifying experience to paper.
In the late ‘90s, Barcelona is “a city on the brink, infatuated with its own improbability” and filled with a diverse population, including Rhys Lucas, a thirty-three-year-old ex-pat and grad-school dropout. Lucas pursues an active social life financed by his esoteric employment, somewhat bored by his eccentric friends but not inspired to change the languorous days of partying.
When an anonymous postcard appears in his apartment inviting him to an art opening, Lucas attends out of curiosity. It is there that he first sees Nuria Rasavall. The attraction is mutual and incendiary, the lovers spending long hours in each other’s company, unwilling to include the outside world.
Consumed with his new affair, Lucas grows careless of his responsibilities, easily distracted by Nuria, although he admits to a vague sensation of being watched. One night while Nuria sleeps, Lucas is visited by the “roof people” - silent as ninjas, hopping the rooftops of the slumbering city with impunity, to steal or to watch, sometimes leaving a spray-painted yellow cross as a signature, symbol of the ancient Cathars.
Lucas takes this visitation as a mere curiosity, distracted by his passion for Nuria, but later, when he and Nuria are kidnapped by masked strangers, he has cause to wonder what else he has failed to observe in his preoccupation. Isolated in an ascetic cell somewhere in the Pyrenees, Lucas comes face to face with Andre Pontneuf, the leader of a Cathar sect that mirrors one from the thirteenth century, the heretical group persecuted relentlessly by the Church in this part of the world.
Believing himself the reincarnation of the Cathar’s leader, Bernard Rocher, Pontneuf also claims Lucas may be his betrayer, both of them again acting out the conflict of an earlier century. Unable to speak to Nuria during his interrogation, Lucas begins to question her role in the abduction and her commitment to their love.
Escaping his captors, Lucas returns to Barcelona, his paranoia intensified by an overindulgence in drink and drugs, obsessed with finding Nuria again, fancifully clinging to his assumption that they can return to the simpler times of their romance. Relating his odd tale to his friends, many question if the experience is anything but Lucas’ drug-fueled imagination.
Filled with a disparate history and the power struggles of a dominant religious and cultural heritage, Barcelona takes on a life of its own, while Lucas’ spiritual quest, if indeed there is more to the tale than appears, remains an unsolved mystery, the ex-pat caught between the ancient past and the all too real present.