Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Prisoner of Heaven

I discovered Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s mouth-watering prose while working at a book store in  the mid-2000’s. My boss at the time regularly touted Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind as one of the best books she’d ever read. We had somewhat similar taste, and I pride myself on having an open mind and a slightly ravenous hunger for literature, yet somehow I never really moved on this one. Then in 2008 Zafon published The Angel’s Game, a prequel to Shadow, and I just happened to walk into the room while my boss was describing the opening chapters of the novel to another co-worker. For the purposes of explaining my IMMEDIATE interest in the book I will now try to recreate what I heard that day. I don’t have the best memory, but I believe it will be fairly accurate, as her words at the time made quite the impact on me:

“…he spends the night with this woman at a brothel and it’s so amazing that he takes all of the money he has and goes back to the following evening for one last time, only to find that not only is the woman not there, neither is the brothel. In fact, instead of the lavish curtains, winding staircase and lush decor that he remembers he finds a bombed out building, the roof no longer even in tact, dust several inches thick and no sign anyone has even set foot in the place for years…”

I proceeded to read both The Angel’s Game and The Shadow of the Windin short order, falling head over heels in love with both books as well as the author’s surreal and beautiful prose. There is an almost Bradbarian sweep to Zafon’s craftsmanship, and when you take into account the fact that Zafon’s novels are translated from the original Spanish, well, I can only imagine the effect they must have in their original language. regardless, I became an instant fan in the true sense of the word: fan(atic).

Taken in continuity*, Zafon’s epic tale begins place in post-Civil War era Spain, and loosely follows several generations of the Sempere family – antiquarian booksellers in wonderfully cobblestoned and gaslit Barcelona. The family has  has a decidely strange relationship with one  of the city’s many legends – the enigmatic Cemetary of Forgotten Books. Now as intriguing as this in itself might sound, the Cemetary is not the main centerpiece of the novels, but rather a kind of nexus that often brings characters together or catalizes the mysterious and at times nail-biting events that unfold in their lives.

I’ve been waiting for The Prisoner of Heaven since the day I finished Shadow and finally last month the novel was published in English. The problem now is, embroiled in my own writing project of decidedly complicated (but, I think, wonderful) proportions, I simply have not had the time to read it. Couple this with the fact that the press surrounding the new novel promises that it brings threads from both previous novels into fruition,  if you’re a fan or an avid reader you’re probably thinking like me – that after an interim of nearly four years, in order to fully appreciate The Prisoner of Heaven I really have to re-read both Angel’s and Shadow.

I have my work cut out for me.

However, this is a case where I know it will be worth it. For newcomers though, this is a chance to give Carlos Ruiz Zafon a try and then be able to burn through one of the most beautiful trilogies in recent memory. I implore all lovers of the gothic noir, the beautiful plane of literature so often referred to as “Magical Realism” or just well-plotted, well-written stories to go out and pick up some Carlos Ruiz Zafon. There are a lot of authors I love, but it is a different experience entirely when you try a new book and fall in love.


* Meaning if you read the books, as I did, from prequel through. Their are common characters woven between the novels in the Sempeire family, however you most definitely do not have to read these first two in any particular order.

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

One Response to Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Prisoner of Heaven
  1. JGrez Reply

    Oddly enough, I sit down in the lounge room of the hostel I’m at in Manila and lo and below a copy of “The Midnight Palace” sits there staring right up at me. He published this in 1994, I imagine in Spanish originally. I’ll start it tonight.

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