Zafon experts, please forgive me — this is my first time reading one of his books.  After I was nearly finished with it, someone asked me how I liked the first two in the series.  Oops.  But, I was impressed enough to want to go back and read them.  And as far as I am concerned, The Prisoner of Heaven stands on its own.

In 1957 Barcelona, Daniel Sempere lives above the family bookstore with his wife and newborn son.  His best friend, Fermin, is about to married.  Then a mysterious, cagey stranger appears and threatens to upset their happiness.  The crippled man purchases a rare edition of The Count of Monte Cristo and inscribes it to Fermin.  Fermin must then confide in his friend if he is to defeat the ghosts of his past.

Barcelona in the 1950s

The book uses frame story structure to give us glimpses into Fermin (and Sempere’s father’s) years during Franco’s reign, as well as using Daniel’s firsthand narrative to put the pieces together.  Zafon’s characters have a voice that is bemused, worn down by oppression and hardship.  They find a desperate humor in their difficult situation.

A professional bookseller has few opportunities to acquire the fine art of following a suspect in the field without being spotted.  Unless a substantial number of his customers are prominent defaulters, such opportunities are only granted to him vicariously by the collection of crime stories and penny dreadfuls on his bookshelves.  Clothes maketh not the man, but crime, or its presumption maketh the detective, especially the amateur sleuth.   ~Pg. 14

Books and storytelling are a prominent theme here.  Aside from Daniel’s job, there is the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

His tiny figure was engulfed by the great beam of light pouring down from the glass dome in the ceiling.  Brightness fell in a vaporous cascade over the sprawling labyrinth of corridors, tunnels, staircases , arches, and vaults that seemed to spring from the floor like the trunk of an endless tree of books and branched heavenwards displaying an impossible geometry.  Fermin stepped on to a gangway extending like a bridge into the base of the structure.  He gazed at the sight open mouthed.  I drew up to him and put a hand on his shoulder.

‘Welcome to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, Fermin.’
~  Pg. 264

I’d also like to give my complements to Lucia Graves, who translated the novel from Spanish.  She  conveys the rich, velvetiness of Zafon’s writing.  A good translation is so important to gravitas of a book and she does a great job here.

The Prisoner of Heaven is a fairly quick read, full of adventure and thematic intertwining.    It is a fresh take yet has an ancient wisdom about it all in a new (to me) setting.  Now, I’m off to find the rest of his books.

Many thanks to the folks at Harper for the review copy.

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ISBN: 9780062206282
ISBN10: 0062206281
Imprint: Harper
On Sale: 7/10/2012
Format: Hardcover
Trimsize: 6 x 9
Pages: 288; $25.99
Ages: 18 and Up

 

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