Last Friday, Carlos Ruiz Zafón died of colon cancer at his home in Los Angeles at only 55 years old after battling the disease for two years. The author of eight Gothic novels, he was known as “the most-read Spanish author since Cervantes” and was loved by fans all over the world. Most American audiences know him from his bestselling The Shadow of the Wind, the first in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. This series is many things: literary thriller, Gothic mystery, historical fiction, stylish noir. All four books (the second one in particular) dive into supernatural territory at times with Zafón’s signature, evocative language and dark, brooding characters. He is a master storyteller whose writing evokes 19th century classic literature, old Hollywood, and Gothic horror, creating a style all his own.
The Shadow of the Wind tells the story of a young boy named Daniel Sempere who lives with his father in 1945 Barcelona. When his father brings him to a mysterious underground library full of forgotten books, Daniel’s life is changed forever. He chooses a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax and soon finds himself pursued by a mysterious figure with an unhealthy interest in the book. This is where we are introduced to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a secret library that runs like a thread throughout the entire series. The stories are all set during or after the Spanish Civil Wars of the 1930s. The Angel’s Game is a prequel while The Prisoner of Heaven and The Labyrinth of the Spirits continue telling David’s story through the late 1950’s under Franco’s regime. Zafón’s love of Spain and Barcelona in particular shines through his work, evoking a dark, labyrinthine city straight out of a film noir with mysterious women and cloaked figures and, at the heart of it all, the love of books and storytelling.
Born and raised in Barcelona, Zafón worked in advertising as an adult before moving to Los Angeles in the 1990s to work as a screenwriter. After that, he split his time between the two cities, never losing that love of Barcelona that infused his books. Before embarking on The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, Zafón wrote several books for young adults which are similar in tone. The Prince of Mist, Marina, The Midnight Palace, and The Watcher in the Shadows are all Gothic mysteries set in Spain and were well received though not runaway hits like his books for adults.
When he heard of Zafón’s passing, the prime minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, tweeted, “We have lost one of the world’s most read and most admired Spanish writers. Carlos Ruiz Zafón, a key novelist of our epoch, made a significant contribution to modern literature.” Zafón’s gorgeously written gothic novels have been translated into over forty languages and sold more than 38 million copies worldwide. Above all, his books are for people who love books and stories. Zafón said they were “books about my own inner world, about writing and reading … I wanted to explore the creative process of storytelling, and this has allowed me to understand many things about myself.” His stories are vivid, his images so clear that it often feels like you’re watching a movie rather than reading a book. He has a singular voice, a distinct vision, and the soul of a true entertainer. He will be sorely missed but his work will not be forgotten.