Having spent some weeks in Barcelona this past summer, I was intrigued to read Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s series of novels about writers and booksellers in Franco-era Spain. I actually started with the third book in the series, The Prisoner of Heaven. I enjoyed it immensely and am hoping to read the other two, The Angel’s Game and The Shadow of the Wind before the end of the year. A fourth novel is expected soon, to complete the set. The books are not time sequential and do not have to be read in order.
Daniel Sempere runs a bookshop with his father, just off Las Ramblas in the gothic quarter of Barcelona. Daniel, his wife Beatriz and their newly born son, Julián live above the shop. They are happy, but Daniel has some doubts about his wife’s commitment to their marriage. Sempere and Son have only one employee, Fermín Romero de Tores and it is Fermín’s story that is divulged in The Prisoner of Heaven.
Life in Franco-era Spain was fraught with danger. The Fascist regime was eager to eradicate any and all opposition, and many intellectuals, scholars and writers were imprisoned during the early years to quash intellectual discourse and political resistance. Fermín was one such prisoner (though not the Prisoner of Heaven of the title) and this novel tells of his capture, imprisonment and escape from the Castell de Montjuïc at the top of Barcelona’s highest coastal vantage point.
Zafón tells the story with tender prose and endears each character to the reader. After a mysterious stranger enters the bookshop and leaves a very enigmatic and expensive gift for Fermín, he reveals his tale to Daniel. The story then navigates between the end of the Spanish Civil War era and the present-day of 1957. Zafón weaves in the history of Catalan resistance and the struggle to combat the Franco regime within this fiercely independent region with deftness and gives a real sense of time and place to the narrative. Questions are answered as new mysteries are revealed and I was quite entranced by The Prisoner of Heaven.