By Julie Etra
Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a Spanish writer, born in Barcelona in 1964 but based in Los Angeles since 1994. His books have been published in 40 languages.
I am on my fourth Zafón book El laberinto de los espíritus (Labyrinth of the Spirits), the most recent in the series ‘El cementerio de los libros olvidados’ (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books). These four gothic, fantastical books are within themselves a type of labyrinth since they are all interconnected, with complex multiple layers and re-occurring characters. Within the multiple plots, the central theme or focus is the cemetery of forgotten books, which exists in a hidden world below the streets of Barcelona, the main setting for all of these novels. They are mystery and detective books, books about books, bookstores, booksellers, writers, readers, and even book burners, and encounters with evil forces in the city. Set in Barcelona from the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War through the 1950s, the series goes back and forth though time. Incredible research and detail allow the reader to get a distinct feel, picture, and even smell of Barcelona during those decades; the cafés, the trams, the coffee, the serrano ham, the street lights, the prisons. Even a Spanish-speaking reader may need a dictionary at hand to translate and understand out-of -date objects from a previous era. Well-developed and complex characters keep the reader’s interest and attention. If you read these books and then travel to Barcelona, you get a very different sense of the city, as I did a few years ago after reading La Sombra del Viento (The Shadow of the Wind). As stated by Zafón, “Barcelona is a very old city in which you can feel the weight of history; it is haunted by history. You cannot walk around it without perceiving it.” We had to stay on the Ramblas.
Prior to writing La Sombra del Viento in 2001, he was known as an author of children’s books. According to Zafón, he was unusual in his family and did not develop his love for reading from his parents or siblings. As a child, he was fascinated by storytelling. He read everything, comic books, classics, mysteries.
As an adult, influences on his work have included 19th century classics, noir authors, crime fiction, and contemporary writers. Not a surprise. According to interviews, another large influence comes from film and screenwriting. He has said he finds it easier to visualize scenes cinematically, which lends itself to the graphic worlds and complex characters and settings he creates. Specific literary influences include Dumas, Balzac, Dickens, Benito Pérez Galdós, Eduardo Mendoza, and Arturo Pérez-Reverte. I must say I had never heard of Galdós, Mendoza, or Pérez-Reverte until I started reading about Zafón; they were/are all Spanish writers. Time to broaden my horizons!
If this kind of novel interests you, I suggest you listen to this interview: http://www.goodreads.com/videos/86208-interview-with-carlos-ruiz-zaf