24 Nov / The Cemetery of Forgotten Books: The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, The Prisoner of Heaven, The Rose of Fire by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves
Well, crud. In spite of making a list and checking it twice, thrice, and more, I read these in about as ‘wrong’ order as I possibly could. But before I offer two preventative options, some quick background: the full Cemetery of Forgotten Books by internationally bestselling Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a series of four volumes, plus a single (thus far) short story. For us non-original text readers, the series is translated by Lucia Graves, the daughter of renowned English poet and novelist Robert Graves (I, Claudius). While I can’t comment on word-to-word accuracy, more than a few phrases carried an anachronistic din; would a well-raised teenager in the 1920s (no matter how feisty) speaking to an older man thusly – “‘I’m cold and my bum’s turned to stone …,'” much less tell him to “‘shut up'”? Original readers, please do chime in.
But back to order. Literally. The first three Forgotten Books are pictured here, together with the short story, “The Rose of Fire,” which is available as a free download by clicking here. I can’t find any further information on the fourth and final Book – if anyone has any tidbits, do share! Nope, I’m not above begging!
So here’s two suggested paths through the Cemetery:
- You could choose the books in the order they were published: Shadow, Angel’s, “Rose,” Prisoner.
- Or, you could choose to read chronologically by narrative: “Rose,” Angel’s, Shadow, Prisoner.
Inexplicably, I ended up reading Prisoner, Angel’s, Shadow, “Rose.” I went audible (highly recommended!) with each of the three novels voiced by a different reader: Peter Kenny (Prisoner) was the trio’s best for his diverse characterizations, Jonathan Davis (Shadow) felt a wee bit subdued in comparison, and Dan Stevens (Angel’s) was the most memorable purely because of his star factor [Stevens is currently best known as the late – sniff, sniff! – Cousin Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey; he had hidden Kindle-sized pockets sewn into his Downton costumes so he could spend every available second reading for his 2012 Man Booker judging duties!].
All that said, the most important detail to take from this multi-volume post is to read them all, in whatever order you can grasp your hands around. For now, let’s choose option 2. Why know more before you need to? Not only is ignorance bliss, but delayed gratification will surely keep you swiftly turning the pages.
Let “Rose” set the mood by explaining the 15th-century origins of the titular Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and to introduce the literary Sempere family. The Cemetery and the Semperes – all ensconced in Barcelona, a darkly magical city with a terrible history – appear in every volume. Fast forward to the 1920s in Angel’s Game, in which a young writer, David Martín, survives a brutal childhood during which Sempere & Sons was his only refuge: “My favorite place in the whole city.” He begins his career writing newspaper articles about grisly murders, then moves on to his own popular horrific fictions published regularly under a pseudonym. He falls in love with an elusive woman he loses, but is forever adored by a young girl Isabella who refuses to leave him. When the one and only title that bears his true name is ignominiously dismissed, he begins to write a new book in fulfillment of a shockingly lucrative contract for a mysterious foreign publisher. And then the real-life murders begin … and multiply.
Almost three decades later, in The Shadow of the Wind, the Sempere son, Daniel, is on a quest of his own. After discovering Julián Carax’s novel of the same name, Daniel quickly learns that his is one of the very last copies in the world. But a devoted reader always wants more – even after learning that some monster is out there burning every Carax book – and Daniel decides he’s going to find Carax himself.
A few years have passed when the The Prisoner of Heaven begins with Daniel now a husband and father. His closest friend, devoted bookshop employee, and sworn bachelor, Fermín Romero de Torres, is about to get married to the one true love of his life. Although Daniel has never doubted Fermín’s love and loyalty to the Sempere family, he needs to find some definitive answers when a wealthy stranger makes a surprise purchase at the family bookstore and is eventually revealed to be using Fermín’s own beloved name. The real – or not? – Fermín’s confessions return David Martín and his devoted assistant Isabella to the page, revealing a multi-layered past Daniel never even knew he had.
Concepts and constructs of authorship, identity, so-called truth, perspectives of good and evil and every grey zone in between, are all here just waiting to be questioned and challenged. Meanwhile, literature literally saves lives, from Great Expectations to The Count of Monte Cristo; the 2013 paperback version of Prisoner includes a “P.S.” section that ends with Zafon’s own eclectic list of “Dead Fellows You Should See and Read Frequently” (from Brontë to Faulkner to Dos Passos!). Yes, each novel stands alone, but when read together, the connections become sublime, even at the price of your own memory (sanity?!); interwoven and overlapping, whose story is reliable, who is even able to speak the truth, who will deceive you once again, prove to be the most daunting mysteries of all. Beyond the body count, go ahead and attempt to figure it all out … at least until the next book comes along and turns all theories to … well … fiction. Superbly done.
Published: 2004, 2009, 2012, 2012 (United States)