Zafon, Carlos Ruiz


In 2001, Carlo Ruiz Zafon published 'The Shadow of the Wind', the opening movement in a four-volume cycle collectively entitled 'The Cemetery of Forgotten Books'. Now, Zafon brings that cycle to a resonant, deeply satisfying conclusion with 'The Labyrinth of the Spirits', his largest, richest, most absorbing accomplishment to date.

Each of the four novels serves as both as both an independent narrative and a point of entry into the lives of a gallery of unforgettable characters, chief among them the Sempere family, booksellers eking out a living in the ravaged, war-torn city of Barcelona. Taken together, these four volumes form a kind of secret history of Barcelona, one dominated and symbolized by the eponymous Cemetery. Zafon then sets that imaginary history against the larger history of a city—and country—torn by civil war and forced to endure nearly forty years of state sponsored terror under the Fascist regime of Francisco Franco. The resulting fusion of literature and politics, history and art, is one of the significant accomplishments of modern popular fiction.

Like its predecessors, 'The Labyrinth of the Spirits' generates its own central narrative while echoing and amplifying themes and storylines from the earlier books. The vast, complex narrative begins with a single event: the disappearance of Minister of Culture Mauricio Valls. When Alicia Gris, Zafon’s heroine and a magnificent fictional creation, begins to investigate, she uncovers a series of sordid plots involving retribution, mass murder, and the serial kidnapping of newly orphaned children. It is a grim, often harrowing story, and Zafon brings it to life in riveting, unflinching fashion.

On another, more personal level, these four books offer a profound and moving defense of the power of the imagination. Horrors abound in Zafon’s fictional universe, but so do their benign counterparts: love, friendship, family, ideas and, most centrally, stories. 'The Labyrinth of the Spirits' is, among other things, the culmination of a massive celebration of books, writers, and the life of the mind. It is also an indisputable masterpiece that is likely to endure—and speak to readers—for a very long time to come.

   

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