The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Lucia Graves, translator)

The Prisoner of Heaven brings back all the characters you loved from the first two novels in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books series – Daniel Sempere, now a father and husband to Bea; his fast-talking friend Fermín Romero de Torres; the author David Martín; Isaac, the caretaker; and of course poor, dead Isabella Sempere.  Daniel’s mother. David Martín’s best friend.

In The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game and, most recently, The Prisoner of Heaven, Zafón is writing an ever expanding narrative.  He not only creates connections between characters, but suggests new interpretations of events. After a sinister stranger arrives at Sempere & Son’s Bookshop looking for him, Fermín is forced to reveal his the secrets of his past to Daniel.  As he tells his story, hidden doors open and new mysteries arise.  The two embark on another grand adventure.  Not everything is resolved by the book’s end, hinting at what the author might have planned for his next installment.

I’ve always believed that one of Zafón’s greatest strengths is his ability to create atmosphere, and he continues to play to that strength in The Prisoner of Heaven.  As the title suggests, a good portion of this tale takes readers inside the walls of Montjuïc Castle, where both republicans and nationalists were imprisoned and executed, and their bodies dumped in mass graves at the neighboring cemetery during the Spanish Civil War.  In Zafón’s hands Montjuïc becomes a prison worthy of Dumas – damp, dirty, deadly.  It looms over the city of Barcelona.  The warden is, of course, a monster.  And the sadistic Inspector Fumero, introduced in The Shadow of the Wind, lurks (appropriately) in the shadows.

I don’t want to give too much of the story away.  The plot twists and turns, doubling back on itself, and then veers off in a seemingly random direction.  Yet by the novel’s end, almost unbelievably, Zafón manages to connect all the dots.  Not just in this novel, but the entire series.  Including the book I imagine he is currently at work on.

Zafón claims to have written the novels so that they can be read in any sequence (influenced a tiny bit by Cortázar, perhaps?), and I keep trying to imagine how the story could unfold with the order mixed up.  I don’t believe it would make a significant difference. If you want to read the books in strict chronological order begin with The Angel’s Game, move on to The Shadow of the Wind and then read The Prisoner of Heaven.  But I recommend following the order Zafón wrote them and in which they were published.  The Angel’s Game struck me as a bit inscrutable when I first read it, but I dismissed my reaction.  I assumed it to be a stand-alone set in the same Barcelona as The Shadow of the Wind.  Eventually I came to understand that, like The Empire Strikes Back, The Angel’s Game creates a bridge between books.  The significance of which isn’t apparent until after reading The Prisoner of Heaven.

All three books are translated by the legendary Lucia Graves.  She is the daughter of the poet and novelist Robert Graves, as well as a novelist and memoirist in her own right.  She excels at genre fiction, always keeping perfect pace with the author’s text.  Her translations are fresh and unaffected The Prisoner of Heaven maintains the (high) level of quality which I expect from a book with her name on it – and I hope she will continue to work on Zafón’s novels, at least until the series reaches its conclusion.

Publisher:  Harper, New York (2012)
ISBN:  978 0 06 220628 2

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6 thoughts on “The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Lucia Graves, translator)

  1. I actually read The Shadow of the Wind in a Hebrew translation, and then The Angel’s Game in English, and really preferred the Hebrew translation. I could still feel an underlying similarity in style that was obviously Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s own writing, but the English felt a lot stickier and less smooth (the Hebrew flowed wonderfully). I’ve decided to wait for the Hebrew translation of The Prisoner of Heaven (though I’m not sure if it’s going to be the same translator; The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game had different translators in Hebrew for some odd reason…), to see which I prefer.

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    1. B. – Please come back and let me know what you think. I’m very curious to see how you like the Hebrew translation. I enjoyed The Prisoner of Heaven as much as its predecessors, in fact it made me like The Angel’s Game better in hindsight. This seems to be one of the those series where the quality remains consistently high for all the installments.

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  2. I am currently reading The Prisoner of Heaven after having finished both Shadow of the Wind, which I loved so much, and Angel’s Game, which did not capture my attention as much as I expected it would. *SPOILER ALERT* And it turns out Isabelle is Daniel’s mother. I am not sure whether I have skipped some parts in Angel’s Game where Isabelle is introduced as I am completely puzzled how, out of nowhere, she becomes Daniel’s mother. I was wondering if you could explain that part to me. Thank you.

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    1. Hi Lex –

      Good question! Now, it’s been a while since I read the first two books – so I may not be completely accurate here – but this is how I remember it. And, anyone else reading this comment who doesn’t want to read any *SPOILERS* should probably stop here.

      In Shadow of the Wind we find out Daniel’s mother died when he was very young… I also think we’re told her name, but I’m not sure of that. We do learn that Daniel’s father is the one who brings him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books… and I also believe he tells Daniel it was Daniel’s mother who first took him there.

      In The Angel’s Game David Martín becomes friends with Sempere & Son and, as I remember it, is assisted in his adventures by the younger Sempere who will become Daniel’s father. David eventually introduces his assistant Isabel to Sempere Jr. – (who Zafon must have given him a first name, but I honestly can’t remember it!). Somewhere in the book Isabel decides to marry Sempere Jr., realizing she cares for him and that David will never return her feelings. There’s a nice scene where David takes Isabel to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and she asks if she can tell Sempere Jr. about this place. David says of course, they have “no secrets from him”. (Also, I thought David finds out about Isabel having a son named Daniel and her death at the end of The Angel’s Game – but this is another point I’m fuzzy on and will have to double check).

      So Zafon did a good job of making sure the clues and connections are all there. But it’s impossible to tie them all together until you read The Prisoner of Heaven (which is why I equate it to The Empire Strikes Back! 🙂 ). I hope that helps!

      Have you finished the book yet? If not – STOP READING HERE UNTIL AFTER YOU’RE DONE! Then, I’d love to know what you thought about David Martin. He’s obviously losing – or has lost – his mind… so how many of the events in The Angel’s Game truly do you think happened vs. his imagining them?

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