The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Only a small number of Señor Zafon’s books have be translated into English, including this latest one. The translator, Lucia Graves, must be given due credit for making Zafon’s writing as enjoyable in English as I am certain they are in their native Spanish; I am attempting to read his other books in their native Spanish, slogging through with my dictionary at my side.

It is apparent that Zafon is not only an excellent writer, but enjoys the process of writing, and of reading. He once again includes the fascinating setting that is The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where all books have a home, a biblioholics dream come true; Sempere and Sons bookstore, where the proprietor puts his love of books and finding them a home above business and revenue, plays a key role (Daniel Sempere is, of course, the main character of The Shadow of the Wind; and, from the very first paragraph, the love and pain of authorship is at the forefront:

A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.

The writer in question is David Martín, born into poverty, not knowing his mother and with a father who came back from a war, unappreciated and unemployable. David gets a job at a newspaper, and his befriended by Don Vidal (the wealthy son of the newspaper owner) and Don Basilio, the deputy editor. Because of Don Vidal’s suggestion and Martín’s apparent skill at writing, he is given a chance to write a serial for the paper. This leads to a job writing pulp crime novels under a psudenym for a couple of shady characters. Martín falls in love for Christina, the daughter of Don Vidal’s driver. Vidal and Martín are both working on novels under their own name, and when Vidal gets discouraged, Christina brings the manuscript to Martín, who works on it and his own. Both get puslished on the same day, Vidal’s is well received, Martín’s panned. Adding to his misery,  Martín is working himself to exhaustion, and a doctor tells him he has a tumor; then Christina agrees to marry Don Vidal.

Martín has been getting letters from a supposed French publisher named Andreas Correlli. He decides to meet with Correlli, who offers him a very large sum to write a fable for adults that will convince them of certain religious beliefs. Correlli also somehow heals Martín, and his two bosses that own his publishing contract mysteriously die in a fire, freeing Martín of his contract while bringing him under the scrutiny of the police.

To tell more would be to give away too much of the plot, but, similar to The Shadow of the Wind, Zafon teases the reader with reality and fantasy, leaving us to decide which events actually occured to the characters and which have happened only in their minds.

On an article by Zafon, he states that there will be four related novels, all tied together with the setting of old Barcelona and the Cemetary of Forgotten Books:

I realized I would have to write four different novels. They would be stand-alone stories that could be read in any order. I saw them as a Chinese box of stories with four doors of entry, a labyrinth of fictions that could be explored in many directions, entirely or in parts, and that could provide the reader with an additional layer of enjoyment and play. These novels would have a central axis, the idea of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, set against the backdrop of a highly stylized, gothic and mysterious Barcelona. Since each novel was going to be complex and difficult to write, I decided to take one at a time and see how the experiment evolved on its own in an organic way.

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