Carlos Ruiz Zafon: "A writer’s only true country is literature"
I’ve long suspected that a writer’s only true country is literature. No flags or borders, no passports or ID cards, no anthems or colourful tribal paraphernalia, but the beauty of language and the world of the mind.
Every time I start working on a new novel I feel like I am going back home to that country that only exists in my mind and hopefully in yours as well, dear reader.
Eleven years ago I published my fifth book, The Shadow of the Wind, and ever since then I’ve been taking long vacations back into that dreamland to revisit the characters, their universe and to try to find out more about their stories to share them with my readers.
The chronicle of my latest trip back home is called The Prisoner of Heaven, and hits UK shores this month, willing to find old friends and expats from the lands of literature.
After the dark, gothic labyrinths of The Angel’s Game, The Prisoner of Heaven takes us back directly to the point where Shadow of the Wind left us. We’re back in the Barcelona of the late ’50s, where our friends Daniel and Fermin at the Sempere Bookstore in the old town think they might be facing a better day, a better future.
Of course, they’re wrong, for a mysterious stranger out of the past, a very dark past, drops by for a visit carrying a deadly secret in his warped mind that will forever alter their lives and pitch them against the most deadly of enemies, the real villain hidden inside the maze of stories that exist only in the universe of the cemetery of forgotten books.
Going back to Fermin (who this time is the real star with his name above, and all over, the title), Daniel, Bea and all the others was a sheer pleasure. I missed my creatures, my friends, and I badly missed home. I felt I had been away for too long and I realised I needed to walk back into the corridors and galleries of the cemetery of forgotten books, to plunge back into the atmosphere of my own Barcelona and find out about the secrets that the story had been keeping in its dark heart for too long.
I always envisioned the four novels of the cemetery of the forgotten books as a Chinese box of fictions, a labyrinth of stories with four doors of entry in which, depending on the direction the reader took, the tale would rearrange itself, the perspectives would shift and the whole narrative, as alive as the reader, would change and mutate into something new.
In The Prisoner of Heaven we find the clues to completely reinterpret the apparently impenetrable mysteries and ambiguities of The Angel’s Game, and we find the threads and connections between all the books in the series. The Shadow of the Wind is thus reborn, and we finally get a glimpse of what the chess game of stories we’ve been playing is all about.
We’re one inch away from the grand finale, and we’re finally down there, deep at the bottom of the rabbit hole. Welcome back to wonderland, dear reader. We missed you dearly. We hope you missed us a little bit. Fermin in particular does hope you missed him a lot. He wants to prove it to you. He’s like that; you’ve been warned.
All in all, I hope you have as much fun as I had going back home. These days, the journey into the beauty and knowledge of books seems one of the few worth taking. Life’s short. Pack your bags.
The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (W&N, £16.99) is out now