Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s novel, The Prisoner of Heaven, is one of a cycle of novels that Ruiz Zafon says can be read independently and in any order. I have no reason to doubt that, but I wish I had stumbled on The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game before I picked up The Prisoner of Heaven.
This is a good, somewhat picaresque novel set convincingly in Barcelona (a city I know fairly well) that conveys the lightness of life that transpires in Barcelona’s many dark shadows. The Catalans are a tough, stylish people, good at the arts and good at industry, and great at architecture. All this comes into play in The Prisoner of Heaven, which is in its heart of hearts, a mystery. Some of that mystery emanates from the results of the vicious Spanish Civil War; and some of it emanates from Barcelona’s fancifulness and impossible expectations.
The book moves back and forth from the late 1930s through the 1940s and 1950s, concluding on the eve of the 1960s. Its best scenes transpire in a wretched prison, where those whom Franco defeated are placed to rot and die. They do it with smelly, humorous, ineradicable dignity, and they move through a verbal atmosphere--one of smoke, fog, mist, illusions, and shadows--that’s a pleasure to savor.
Toward the end of the novel, a younger and older man carry their friendship toward uncertain fates. The younger man is placed in a situation that calls for revenge. The older man is liberated into an apparently happy bourgeois marriage.
Ruiz Zafon writes funny dialogue, moves his story quickly, embeds subplots nicely, and encompasses everything in the somewhat impossible to believe Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Don’t worry, you’ll get there in the end. Yes, this is one of those stories within a story, a tale of manuscripts lost and found, and a good admixture of memories and nostalgia.
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