What is the best-known book set in Spain?

See note on methodology

You may have thought you knew the answer to this – I certainly thought I did. However, the users of Goodreads and LibraryThing, taken en masse, do not always have the same tastes as you or me (this may have become apparent in previous posts). On both systems, the book most widely owned which has a partially Spanish setting is a tedious undergraduate philosophy essay disguised as a Meaningful Story which has won the hearts of millions (my apologies if you are one of them), and is the world’s most translated book by a living author. I’m disqualifying it on the grounds that only the beginning is set in Spain, the rest being concerned with a journey to Egypt across the Sahara. Originally written in Portuguese by a Brazilian, it is:

The Alchemist / O Alquimista, by Paolo Coelho

I believe we are on firmer ground with the book that is most frequently tagged “Spain” on both systems, and is second to the Brazilian work by number of owners on LibraryThing and third on GoodReads, a story set both in the present day and around the Spanish Civil War. I haven’t read it myself but it’s high on my reading pile. I rather wish I had read it while I was working on Catalonia where it is apparently set (so this would also win a separate question of the best-known book set in Catalonia). Apparently there is a small section set in Paris; I’ll report back after I’ve read it on whether that is sufficient to raise doubts. Published in 2001, it is:

The Shadow of the Wind / La sombra del viento, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

By number of owners, that book is very close to another three, one being the one I myself would have first thought of, and the other two of which are by the same (American) author. Second on Goodreads, fourth on LibaryThing, is a novel partly set in Paris and on the French side of the Pyrenees, but with the most memorable parts firmly in Pamplona, a story of the time it was written (1926). You may feel that not enough of it is set in Spain to qualify, but I would give it a pass. It is:

The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

Third on LibraryThing, fifth on Goodreads, and tagged “Spain” more often than any book except the one set in Barcelona, is the book I personally would have thought of as the obvious answer to the question. Published 400 years ago, it was the top-rated novel of all time in a survey carried out by the Norwegian Book Clubs back in 2002. I guess its sheer size must put off a number of readers (it as long as the other four listed here combined), which is perhaps why it doesn’t rank higher. It is, of course:

Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

With slightly more readers on Goodreads and slightly fewer on LibraryThing than the seventeenth-century classic, the last book is set during the Spanish Civil War by a writer who actually fought in it. It is of course:

For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway

Bubbling under: George Orwell, Arturo Pérez-Reverte.