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Carlos Ruiz Zafon restores pleasure to the act of reading

July 22, 2009

Carlos_Ruiz_Zafón_-_002Carlos Ruiz Zafon writes the kind of book that reminds you why you fell in love with reading in the first place: Big, Gothic, intensely imaginative novels with a strong narrative drive, a childlike sense of wonder and a grown-up sense of the world’s evil. It doesn’t hurt that love of literature and reading is a major theme in his books.

In fact, books are almost like another character in Zafon’s work. One of his most delightful (and shivery) inventions is the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a huge secret repository of books no one reads any more. Barcelona is a character, too–an alluring, dangerous, character.

The Shadow of the Wind, Zafon’s first adult novel, was an international best seller when it came out in 2001. Set against a backdrop of fascist oppression in the years following World War II, it tells the story of a boy allowed to take a single volume from the Cemetery, only to become obsessed with learning more about its unknown author.

Despite its popularity, The Shadow of the Wind garnered enthusiastic reviews. That’s because Zafon’s writing is characterized by a lyrical prose style common to literary fiction but seldom seen in popular genres. His second adult novel, The Angel’s Game, carries similar themes, shares some characters with the earlier book, and all the same reading pleasures. A prequel, it’s set in Barcelona in the 1920s, but its conflict is more internal. A writer sells his soul to the devil, then tries to solve the mystery that might get it back.

I reviewed The Angel’s Game recently in The Palm Beach ArtsPaper, a fine new online journal. Click here if you’d like to read it.

Zafon has lived in Los Angeles since 1993, writing screenplays (although I cannot find a single screen writing credit for him). He also is the author of four acclaimed young adult novels, one of which, El príncipe de la niebla (The Prince of Mist, 1993), won the Edebe literary prize for young adult fiction. Amazingly, given the success of his adult books, his novels for children do not appear to have been translated into English.

I’ve been told by bilingual readers that Zafon’s books are surpassingly beautiful in the original Spanish. I can well believe it, because the English versions are beautiful, too. His translator, Lucia Graves, daughter of the poet Robert Graves, conveys the subtle wit of Zafon’s writing.

Here’s a brand new q&a Zafon conducted with Reuters in Sydney, Australia, in which he discusses, among other things, how the world-wide popularity of The Shadow of the Wind kept him too busy to write for four years. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait so long for his next novel

2 Comments leave one →
  1. rachel permalink
    July 22, 2009 2:11 pm

    I find the Cemetery of Forgotten Books a wonderful and very scary idea. It is a clear and fresh image in which you can imagine books that have been forgotten and perhaps books in general. (die kindle die). I have never read Carlos Ruiz Zafon, but this description of his work makes me want to.

  2. June 24, 2010 12:54 pm

    I could not agree with you more. Zafon has mastered the ability to capture the imagination.

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