The Prisoner of Heaven – Carlos Luis Zafón

For weeks the idea of making a shelf – a place to keep my scattered books – seemed like a daunting task. And yet, it was done, slowly, a few hours every day, over the space of a week – the wood cut into precise (well, almost precise) parts, rubbed with sandpaper until it felt smooth to the touch, holes drilled into it to hold the metal screws, the smell of burned wood strong and delicious, a scent I have started to love. And then when it was ready, the books took their places, ready to sleep the sleep of the undisturbed until a hand will pull them out of that rest and leaf through for favorite passages or maybe for a new read.

Stepping back to look at it, I was reminded of that wonderful concept Zafón has incorporated in his three books that are part of a series: The Angel’s Game, The Shadow of the Wind, and his latest, The Prisoner of Heaven. If you’ve read any of them you might guess what I’m about to say: “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books”, a magical place that Zafón describes as a secret place filled with many books, a place known to a very few. A place where one (but not just anyone) can go and choose a book to save from oblivion, a book that they are responsible for as long as they live. While my new shelf certainly could not be called a cemetery – I’d rather think of it as a “sanctuary for books” – it did bring back to mind Zafón’s words. And his three novels have their own place in it.

The Prisoner of Heaven is divided into five parts, and the story goes back and forth in time. In this new volume of the series, the reader is brought back to the characters they first met in The Shadow of the Wind – the Sempere family, more precisely the father and his son, Daniel, who is now married and has a son of his own. The Sempere family owns a bookstore and the business is not doing so well. One night a mysterious man comes in and buys the most expensive book on display and inscribes it to Fermín de Torres, a friend of the Sempere family who also works in the bookstore. From then on, things start to get complicated. And with his usual flair for drama, Zafón starts building yet another mystery in which the past comes back, secrets are revealed and in turn beget more secrets. We find out more about David Martín, the main character in The Angel’s Game, and his connection to the Sempere family. Fermín’s grim past is revealed and also the ramifications of a promise he made a long time ago and his effort to build a new life by marrying Bernarda, the woman he loves.

I confess to having been a bit lost in the story – I’ve read the first two books in the series a few years ago and some details that I felt were crucial where lost. Even though a passage at the beginning of the novel says the books in the series are “self-contained” and can be read in any order, I felt like something was missing. That being said, I did enjoy the third installment; in spite of the book being peppered with clichés and the flamboyancy of the writing, I felt myself entertained and curious enough to turn every page, anxious to see what happens next. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much, it reminds me of the sensationalist Victorian novels where every new chapter meant tragedy and tears and possibly even death. This book has its share of all three.
The end is a promise for more drama and tragedy. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. Until then, I leave you with a question: if you could go to “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books”, which book would you save?

*Read in July 2012

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17 Responses to The Prisoner of Heaven – Carlos Luis Zafón

  1. JoV says:

    I always find it hard to choose book for a cemetery of forgotten book. But I do like the look of your new bookshelf!

  2. JoV says:

    Do you need a ladder to reach the top level? 😉 One of the reasons most book shelves are not made that high up!

    • Delia says:

      Hi JoV,
      With so many good books it’s hard to choose, isn’t it?
      No ladder for me – I am tall enough to reach above the last shelf.

  3. Oh, probably a Jane Austen!

    Congrats on your bookcase. Very impressive. Enjoyed your reference to Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Must say that while I enjoyed Shadow of the wind, I haven’t felt driven to read more. I would if it were scheduled for a reading group but otherwise I feel there are too many other authors I would want to read first.

    • Delia says:

      Thanks, shelf number two will follow in the near future!
      I came by your blog and I saw you’re an Austen fan. I’ve only read Emma and didn’t impress me much but I want to read more books by Austen before I make up my mind. 🙂
      Shadow of the Wind was good, and Angel’s Game was ok – this one fell somehow in the middle but I do look forward to the next book. I just hope it won’t take years to come out.
      I understand your point of view, there are so many books out there vying for our attention.

  4. Well done with the bookcase, very exciting to make your own.

    I have Shadow of the Wind to try.

    I would save my Kindle first but if it was a specific book it would be Still Alice by Lisa Genova, absolutely loved it and it is so memorable. I don’t reread but this one I would.

    • Delia says:

      It was very exciting, not to mention cheaper than actually buying one. 🙂
      I will be curious to read your opinion on Shadow of the Wind. So far I think it’s the best of all three books in the series.
      Thanks for mentioning Still Alice, I read some reviews on goodreads and it seems like a very interesting and emotional book. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

  5. Jenners says:

    I am beyond impressed that you built your own bookshelf!! What an amazing thing to do … and it makes it even more of a special place to put your books!!!

    • Delia says:

      Thanks, Jen! I have to say I didn’t do it on my own, it was a team effort, which made it even more special. I love it and I’m thinking of a new one as this is already full!

  6. Vishy says:

    Your bookshelf looks very beautiful! I can’t believe that you made it yourself! Enjoyed reading your thoughts on ‘The Prisoner of Heaven’. I have read ‘Shadow of the Wind’ but haven’t read ‘Angel’s Game’. Should read it one of these days. If I go into the Cemetery of forgotten books, I would like to save a couple of books – ‘Ex Libris’ by Anne Fadiman, which is one of my most favourite books ever. And ‘The Grand Babylon Hotel’ by Arnold Bennett. Because it makes me smile everytime I read it and which is sadly, already out of print.

    • Delia says:

      I helped make it, but my better half was the mastermind behind it. We were not sure if we wanted to paint it or not so we decided to leave it like that. It looks more natural. And it smells great!

      You can only save one book. 🙂
      It is sad when the book you love is out of print. You want to tell people about it but then they can’t buy it. My favorite book shares the same fate.

      • Vishy says:

        Yes, the natural smell of wood is so wonderful! It must have been a delightful project for both of you to make this beautiful bookshelf.

        It is sad that we can save only one book. It is so difficult for me to choose between these two. I first read ‘The Grand Babylon Hotel’ when I was in elementary school (or rather my father read it aloud to me and my sister). I searched for the book during my college years and after I went to work but it was not available anywhere. Then sometime back, I discovered a publishing company which publishes only out-of-print books and prints them only after they are ordered. They had this book in their catalogue and I got a copy from them. This edition was not good, but it was the best I could get. But it was wonderful to read my favourite story again and it was as good as the first time I read it.

        Which is your favourite book which is out-of-print?

        • Delia says:

          Ah, a book with a sentimental value. 🙂 They are the best.
          My favorite book is “Don Juan, The Life and Death of Don Miguel de Mañara”, by Josef Toman. The most beautiful love story I have ever read. It belonged to my parents and the copy I have is old and yellow by now.

          • Vishy says:

            It is wonderful to know that your favourite book is one which once belonged to your parents. Your description of it makes me think of the beautiful stories of Ivan Turgenev. I will add it to my ‘To be read’ list. Because it is out of print, I will search for it in secondhand bookshops here. Thanks for telling me about this book.

  7. Vishy says:

    I just wanted to read your review again to find out how Zafon takes the story further 🙂 It is interesting that Daniel is still working in that bookshop and in the third part of the series, it is Fermin who is in trouble. Interesting! I don’t know whether I will continue with the series, but your review makes me tempted to read it.

    • Delia says:

      If you plan on reading this I recommend you do it sooner rather than later. I forgot so many things from the previous two books in the series when I read The Prisoner of Heaven, it almost made me want to read them again! Almost. 😉

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