Mysterious Book Report The Prisoner of HeavenThe Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Harper, $25.99, 278 pages, ISBN 978-0-062-20628-2

Do you ever get the urge, to just jump in the car with a full tank and drive until you run out of gas . . . never having a destination in mind . . . never knowing where you’re going until you get there?

It’s a great daydream for a little while, leave all your worries and cares behind, become a twenty-first century drifter. But then, reality creeps in.  Who’ll take care of the kids, feed the cat, cut the grass, pay the phone bill, take out the trash . . . all of those million and one things we have to do in our everyday lives?  All of the sudden you’re back to square one, thinking about jumping in the old Cowboy Cadillac and hitting the trail.  Well, here’s a humble suggestion for solving the dilemma: read a book.  It’s that easy.  Because with a flick of the wrist, by opening the first page, we can be transported to an entirely different time and place, while associating with some of the most intelligent and brightest people on planet Earth.  This week’s Mysterious Book Report No. 71 is just such a book, written by just such a mind.

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is the third volume in a proposed four book set whose plots all weave around and into a secret hoard of rare volumes called the Cemetery of Forgotten BooksIt’s hidden somewhere in the city of Barcelona, which is located in northeastern Spain on the Mediterranean coast.  Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, an autonomous region with its own language and a strong separatist tradition.  It’s the place where the Spainish Civil War ended on April 1, 1939 as the Republicans, who supported the elected government and were in turn supported by the Soviet Union, surrendered to the Nationalists under the command of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.  He was supported by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi war machine.  Historians say the Spanish Civil War was the prelude to World War II, a chance for Hitler to test the war machines he’d been building since 1933, when he was declared Chancellor of Germany.  With their utter defeat, the Republicans were then systematically persecuted by the Fascist Nationalists, and this is the backstory of The Prisoner of Heaven.

The story begins in Barcelona in the year 1957 when a mysterious, deformed stranger enters the Sempere & Sons Bookstore the week before Christmas and buys the rarest book in stock, an illustrated edition of The Count of Monte Cristo.  After paying with a thousand-peseta bill and refusing change, the man wrote an arcane sounding inscription on the title page:

For Fermin Romero deTorres,

who came back from among the dead and holds the key to the future.


Thus setting off a hunt for the stranger, a search for a secret cache of stolen money and a tragic love triangle involving The Prisoner of Heaven and ultimately, young Daniel Sempere himself, as he and his best friend Fermin untangle the story which takes place in a series of flashbacks to the year 1940, when Fermin was held in the notorious Montjuic Prison as a cellmate of David Martin . . . the Prisoner of Heaven.  This novel is, in a word, spectacular.  The plot is intricate, the story compelling and the ending wonderful; the entire work an outstanding example of what language is capable of in the hands of a genius.  It’s one that’s not to be missed, a best book of the year and rated at five stars, the type of book that one regrets coming to the end of.  I’m out of superlatives . . . do yourself a huge favor and read The Prisoner of Heaven.  When you’ve finished read the first two in the series: The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game.


John Dwaine McKenna