On June 19, 2020, the literary world got word that novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón had passed away from colon cancer at age 55. Now, a week later, I still can’t get this loss out of my head. I only started reading Zafón’s work last year (in the words of my favorite TV show, The West Wing, “Let’s forget the fact that [I’m] coming a little late to the party and embrace the fact that [I] showed up at all.”), but he quickly became one of my favorite writers.
His Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle is a brilliant collection of novels that all contain common characters and adjacent storylines, but you can read them in any order and discover a whole new take on the world Zafón created. This, in and of itself, was fascinating enough to draw me in, but to top it off, the underlying theme of the whole collection is the power of reading and writing. For the characters living in Spain during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, reading and writing were subversive acts that could land them in prison, or worse. And yet, the characters—bookstore owners, writers, and secret librarians—persist. In essence, if you love books—reading or writing them—these books are meant for you.
In celebration of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s contribution to the world of literature, here are a few quotes from two of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle.
From The Shadow of the Wind
“This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”
“In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands. In the shop we buy them and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here has been somebody’s best friend.”
“…few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we leave behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.”
“The book taught me that by reading, I could live more intensely. It could give me back the sight I had lost. For that reason alone, a book that didn’t matter to anyone changed my life.”
From The Angel’s Game
“ 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 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.”
“…Bring me a story, not a speech. If I want a sermon, I’ll go to Midnight Mass. Bring me a story I have not read before and, if I have read it, bring it to me so well written and narrated that I won’t even notice.”
Order your copy of The Shadow of the Wind
Order your copy of The Angel’s Game
Order your copy of The Labyrinth of the Spirits
Order your copy of The Prisoner of Heaven