The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

[05] Prisoner of Heaven

Believe it or not, Prisoner of Heaven is the first Carlos Ruiz Zafon book I’ve ever read (although I’ve heard that The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game are both incredibly fantastic), the first book I’ve sought out especially because it’s a BIT (book in translation), and the first book I’ve ever read set in Spain. I know. You can now pick your jaw up off the floor. I assure you, all of those things are true. But I’m SO GLAD that, even with all of those things being true, I’m SO GLAD that I read this book. Fermín is one of the better characters/narrators that I’ve come across in a really long time.


arcelona,1957. It is Christmas, and Daniel Sempere and his wife Bea have much to celebrate. They have a beautiful new baby son named Julian, and their close friend Fermín Romero de Torres is about to be wed. But their joy is eclipsed when a mysterious stranger visits the Sempere bookshop and threatens to divulge a terrible secret that has been buried for two decades in the city’s dark past. His appearance plunges Fermín and Daniel into a dangerous adventure that will take them back to the 1940’s and the dark early days of Franco’s dictatorship. The terrifying events of that time launch them on a journey fraught with jealousy, suspicion, vengeance, and lies, a search for the truth that will put into peril everything they love and ultimately transform their lives.

This book is one of those books that has a structure that, while it’s done ALL THE TIME, I don’t even care because I love it with a million loves. It starts with Daniel, who quickly meets a stranger and realizes that something right isn’t happening. He then talks to Fermín, and through Fermín we’re taken back to his time in prison under a despicable and petty man named Valls, into a place where people we’re told are criminals live in damp, dank cages that soon rob them of either their humanity or their sanity. David Martin, the author Fermín meets in prison, who asks of him a promise that changes the entire scope of both Fermín and Daniel’s life, is described as the kind of man who I wish I could meet in real life – the kind who, when he looses his mind, looses it in to words and books and the fictional life he creates. So Martin, along with Fermín, quickly became two of my favorite characters of late, and definitely my favorite characters in the book.

I’m curious what it is I’ve missed in the first few books – which, of course, means that I’m already on the road to getting them read. I have a feeling that there is something rather large/important I’m missing about The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, but nothing that kept me from being able to understand the plot of Prisoner of Heaven. It’s more like there’s this feeling that there’s a bigger picture that’s already been painted, only I can’t see the horizon line so the whole painting’s a little…off. That’s probably a really bad metaphor. But there were a couple of moments in the book, especially later on, where I was just kind of like “what?!”. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand – the plot was formatted brilliantly, I think – but it was more that I didn’t understand EVERYTHING.

I think one of the most enjoyable parts of the book for me was all of the incredibly witty, incredibly off-the-cuff revolutionist/atheistic dialogue spouted by Fermín at what felt like every available opportunity! I think that Zafon really deserves the credit on this one, because it creates for the entire book an atmosphere of political involvement and change without ever being preachy or didactic or, well, dry and boring. There was so much humor that even some of the more inflammatory things just made me smile and chuckle and go “Oh, Fermín!” However, I felt like the ending was a bit…abrupt. It was definitely one of those ones that didn’t really resolve much so much as put a pause on the story while clearly opening the door for the next book (maybe. If there is another one. Which I’m assuming there will be). When I first read the book, I wasn’t aware that Zafon’s books were a kind of series, so knowing this now it makes much more sense. But at the time, and if you read Prisoner of Heaven without knowing it, the ending may leave you feeling a little…jilted.

Rating: Hell yeah!

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