Thought Box

The Secret Library

The Secret Library

by Deepa Gahlot November 29 2018, 12:32 pm Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 15 secs

Spanish writer Carlos Luis Zafon has completed his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series with a fourth novel, The Labyrinth of the Spirits, an epic that ties up strands in the earlier books -- The Shadow of the WindThe Angel’s Game and Prisoner of Heaven, which, in Lucia Graves’s excellent English translation, have become worldwide bestsellers.

In 2001 he created a book lovers’ paradise, in the form of a cemetery of forgotten books, a secret mansion made of endless walls, corridors and columns of books, preserved for posterity. Only a few are allowed into the maze, and if they are initiated, they are allowed to take one book which they have to protect for life. The riveting saga built around the Sempere family of booksellers, captures Spain under the rule of the dictator General Franco, a country seething with unrest, intrigue and politically-motivated atrocities.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Alicia Gris is introduced in this book, a young woman, who, as a child, lost her family during the Spanish Civil War when the Nacionales (fascists) mercilessly bombed Barcelona in 1938. She was rescued by a young Fermin Romero de Torres, who had stowed away in a ship to Barcelona, escaping the sadistic Inspector Fumero, to carry a message for Alicia’s mother. While they were separated in the melee, Alicia found herself in the huge, mysterious library, where her life was saved, but she was left with a burn injury that causes her unbearable agony, and also painful memories that refuse to fade.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The suave and sinister Leandro Montalvo pulled her out of the streets and inducted the beautiful and enigmatic woman into the secret police in Madrid, a job she excelled at and hated. Leandro promises to release her, if she does one last job - tracing the missing Minister of Culture, Mauricio Valls.

She is paired with a reluctant partner, an older policeman, Juan Manuel Vargas, and they make their way to Barcelona, where the key to the mystery lies. Alicia discovers a possible clue - a rare book by the author Victor Mataix in Valls’s office in his forbidding Madrid mansion. Valls used to be the director of the dreaded Montjuic Prison in Barcelona during World War II, where several writers were imprisoned, tortured and possibly killed, including Mataix.

As Alicia and Vargas start investigating, they almost uncover a dark secret that imperils their own lives. Nobody seems to be what they claim to be, and nobody can be trusted; there is danger, deceit and a trail of crimes committed by the corrupt and powerful men in Franco’s tyrannical regime. They have left behind a system that has thrown up ruthless men like Valls and a frighteningly vicious cop called Hendaya.

There are passionate romances, complicated subplots, references to classic literature, and stories within stories - the whole effect is that of a jigsaw, which readers can get lost trying to solve, till Zafon decides it’s time for them to fit all pieces of the puzzle and emerge into the light.

While he tells his stories, Zafón also comments on the political and religious censoring of what are considered ‘unsuitable’ books, and also conjures to vivid word pictures of Barcelona and Madrid. 

Readers, who have read the earlier three books, would enjoy this one much more, but it works quite well as a standalone novel too. The book ends at a point that suggests there could be a fifth novel in the series, and fans would be only too happy if Zafon decides to write it.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits,

By Carlos Luis Zafon (Translated by Lucia Graves)

Publisher: Orion

Pages: 882



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