Frontlist | Review: ‘The Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ series
It wasn’t long ago that I had decided to go, visit my icon, and maybe, walk the streets of his beloved Barcelona, and see it through his eyes, guided by his voice in my head. I had been caught unawares, just like millions of his fans who were left searching for his ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ with a faint hope that maybe, we’d find him sharing a joke with his old time friend, Fermín Romero de Torres. After all, miracles and enigma weren’t so uncommon in Zafón’s world.
Speaking of co-incidences, Carlos Ruiz Zafón shared the same vernacular with his predecessor, Gabriel García Márquez, and they both wrote in Spanish. While Gabo, was a ‘committed leftist’, which left clear traces of political ideologies in his works, Zafón aptly toned it down with his spellbinding plotlines, that do tread the delicate grounds, but manoeuvre through the convoluted passages without overtly expressing his anti-fascist sentiments. The social relevance of his stories begins dawning upon the readers only when they immerse themselves in the fluid and beautiful imagery, and begin feeling empathy for all the beautiful characters who had to take the fall during Franco’s regime.
Zafon’s Barcelona is Umberto Eco marrying Gaston Leroux marrying William Hjortsberg. The story begins with ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ first published in 2001, translated to English by Julia Graves, whose work speaks volumes about her literary accomplishments. She evidently got it in her genes (she is renowned writer, Robert Graves’ daughter). A story within a story, the book leaves me fumbling for words as I try categorising it into a genre. It’s genre-defying, though Gothic-historical-romantic-fantasy-fiction could be a fair try. Set in early twentieth century, it is primarily a heart-wrenching love story, gliding seamlessly between past-present, demons and ghosts (the supernatural words are not to be taken literally though). Daniel Sempere, Fermín Romero de Torres, Inspector Fumero, Miquel Moliner, Nuria Monfort, Julián Carax, Jacinta Coronado and a plethora of vivid characters take you by the hand, up and down the good and bad times of Barcelona. You scan certain paragraphs again and again, your eyes moistening and heart bleeding for some, and your intense anger at Fumero consuming you to the extent that only picking up the next book in the series can quench your thirst.
Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books always comes to the rescue, when you want it from your heart. It reminds me of ‘The Room of Requirements’ from the Harry Potter series.
The second novel, ‘The Angel’s Game’ is constructed primarily around David Martin, an author who is part pulp fiction writer, part disillusioned philosopher, and part lunatic, or is he??? Zafón’s novels are all about books, books and more of them. His love for words evidently enchanted him as much as his penchant for history. The ‘Spanish Civil War’ is just the opposite of the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’, if you consider these two elements as characters. If everything that is hopeful of redemption is represented by The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, everything that is wrong, unjust and hopeless is epitomized by The Spanish Civil War. Franco’s totalitarianism, the brutality meted out to the political prisoners, and the shifting loyalties of the era, are all entombed and enmeshed in the various characters, whom Zafón clearly nurtured with care, and a lot of emotions. Isabella and David Martin are like sentient puppets who can sense an impending doom, but don’t have the freedom to act.
By: Debasree Banerjee (TOI)