Monday, March 25, 2013

TLC Book Review - The Prisoner of Heaven

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
HarperCollins 2011

Format? Hardback
Source? the publisher via TLC Book Tours

**FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Prisoner of Heaven from the publisher in exchange for a review.  However, the review below and the opinions therein are my own and are offered without bias.

Title? I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I'm not sure which of them is the prisoner.  Fermin or Martin would be the obvious choices, but I could also make a case for several of the other characters, dead or alive, human or not.  I'd love to hear what others thought of the title and its meaning.

Cover? I'm assuming the man running in Fermin...but he's in a suit...this could indicate his planned wedding day, but I'm not sure.  Hopefully somebody will straighten me out on this.  The cover reminds me of the movie/musical "Catch Me if You Can."

Why? I missed this when it first came out in hardback but didn't miss all the reviews.  I can't stand feeling left out of something important, so I wanted to dive into Prisoner of Heaven if I could.

What Now? The Prisoner of Heaven reads like a classic to me...this one is going in the antique secretary, and I will most definitely be reading the other two books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series...sooner rather than later.

Golden Lines

I was beginning to think that something odd must be happening to Fermin Romero de Torres - proud standard-bearer of civil resistance against the Holy Mother Church, banks and good manners in that pious 1950's Spain so given to religious services and propaganda newsreels - for him to display such urgency for tying the knot. (7)

"Do bear in mind that when women have a baby, it's as if someone had dropped an atom bomb of hormones into their bloodstream.  One of the great mysteries of nature is how they don't go crazy during the twenty seconds that follow birth.  I know all of this because obstetrics, after free verse, is one of my hobbies."  (45)

The prisoner started to whimper like a wounded dog and was shaking so violently that the governor, who clearly found the scene distasteful and wanted to put an end to the matter as soon as possible, exchanged a glance with the guard and, without saying a word, wrote the name the prisoner had given him in the register, swearing under his breath. 
"Bloody war," he muttered to himself when they took the prisoner to his cell, dragging him naked through the flooded tunnels. (62)

"You're a good man, Fermin.  Try not to let it show," the writer would tell him. (73)

"Sometimes one just gets tired of fleeing," said Fermin. "The world's very small when you don't have anywhere to go." (81)

"Trying to stop Isabella is like trying to stop a cargo train: a fool's errand." (111)

"You've given me back the truth," I said.  "I'm going to give you back your name." (204)

His tiny figure was engulfed by the great beam of light pouring down from the glass dome in the ceiling.  Brightness fell in a vaporous cascade over the sprawling labyrinth of corridors, tunnels, staircases, arches and vaults that seemed to spring from the floor like the trunk of an endless tree of books and branched heavenwards displaying an impossible geometry.  Fermin stepped on to a gangway extending like a bridge into the base of the structure.  He gazed at the sight open mouthed.  I drew up to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Welcome to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, Fermin." (264)


A mysterious stranger shows up one day at Sempere & Sons bookshop with a crypic message for Fermin Romero de Torres.  The stranger leaves the message with Daniel Sempere ("Son") who follows the stranger and then relays the message to Fermin.  In order to convince Daniel, who Fermin loves like a son, to stay away from the dangerous man, Fermin tells Daniel the rest of his story...the part that he left out so many years ago.
Fermin was a political prisoner during the Spanish Civil War of 1939.  He was a pawn of the communist regime and thrown into a cell at the prison of Montjuic Castle...a prison from which no one escaped and most never left alive.
There Fermin meets famed author David Martin who befriends Fermin as much as is possible in order to enable Fermin's survival as well as the survival, he hopes, of his lover Isabella Sempere and her son Daniel.  Martin is imprisoned because of his ability, or so his captor thinks, to re-write history, to perpetuate the propaganda and the career of one very evil but powerful man, Mauricio Valls.  Valls is the "governor" in charge of the prison while Fermin and Martin are incarcerated.
Somehow Martin must accomplish his task while holding on the very last threads of his sanity.
Fermin's bond with the Semperes is explained fully through the retelling of Fermin's history, and Daniel's relationships with both his father and Fermin are affected once the story is complete.  Their lives will forever be intertwined with that of Fermin and unfortunately Mauricio Valls.

What I Liked

Fermin and his wit - I can't tell you how many times I snorted at Fermin's one liners :)

Fermin's friendship, respect for women, respect for Senor have one friend like Fermin would be everyone's wish.

Fermin's history - a harsh history no doubt, but necessary to the story to understand the stranger, the "keys," and the man...even though I was stunned to find him such a seemingly well-adjusted person once Ruiz Zafon had told Fermin's story.

Rocito - saved by Fermin and spends the rest of her life repaying him...but is also able to look at her circumstances realistically while not laying around whining or blubbering about them.  Hard times call for hard measures, and Rocito had the figurative balls to keep moving forward.

Bebo - a small speck of kindness is an unbelievably cruel circumstance. 

David Martin - despite his slow descent into insanity, he was smart enough and cared enough to do what needed to be done at that time in order to guarantee the future.

The writing - lyrical, smooth, flowing, entrancing, the kind of words and prose a reader actually wants to read more than once...just for the experience of the ride.  Great stuff, here...again, destined to be a classic in my opinion.

the letter from David Martin and the angel - I can't tell you about these things, but these are the kinds of tidbits that make readers jump up and down and clap their hands :):)

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books - if you read enough about history, you find that so many times as regimes changed, those in charge burned books...they purged the land of any and all semblance of previous regimes and then re-filled the bookshelves with their own agendas.  As fragile as books are, I find it very interesting that again, over and over, throughout history, books survive.  I am sure the survival of books is due in part at least to the actions of those who take it upon themselves to salvage the whole story...and not just the parts prioritized by the whims of ruler after ruler after ruler.  We owe these people throughout history a great debt.

What I Didn't Like

The scenes from prison - graphic depictions of the cruelty, evil at work and pure helplessness on the part of the prisoner, even the guards who wish to help, and of course, the reader.  How many more times in my adult life will I learn of horrific history that I honestly never knew anything about?  How does this stuff get swept under the rug??

Mauricio Valls - I tried to think of an animal who takes advantage of any and every possible situation to further its life while stealing from other more deserving that knows no bounds when it comes to lowering itself and one that is inherently evil.  Truly evil.  I couldn't think of one.  Valls is in a category all his own, and it degrades even buzzards to compare him to them.  Buzzards do actually have a purpose, as do weasels, etc, but not Valls.

Overall Recommendation

The Prisoner of Heaven is a story of history, war, literature, political prisoners, family, friendship, perseverance, grit, determination, unconditional love, humor, and evil.  

The Author

Other Stops on the Tour

Tuesday, March 12th: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, March 13th: Lectus
Thursday, March 14th: five borough book review
Monday, March 18th: Lavish Bookshelf
Tuesday, March 19th: Book Dilettante
Monday, March 25th: Peppermint PhD
Wednesday, March 27th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, March 28th: 5 Minutes For Books
Friday, March 29th: From the TBR Pile
Monday, April 1st: A Utah Mom’s Life
Tuesday, April 2nd: Curling Up By The Fire
Wednesday, April 3rd: Shall Write
Monday, April 8th: guiltless reading
Tuesday, April 9th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, April 10th: Book Snob
Thursday, April 11th: Love at First Book


  1. I read this one the first time around because I knew so very little about the Spanish Civil War and found it to be a fascinating book. A little over my head but I did enjoy it. I have the first book on my nexus for my "spare time" - as if!

    I am usually afraid of literary fiction because I have a very literal thought process but I'm trying to stretch myself and this is one of the books I took to do that and I was happy that I did.

    1. I honestly was a little worried about the literary fiction aspect as well...even though I'm trained in that area. I'm just rebellious enough to call gunk gunk if it reads like gobbledygook, no matter who the writer is. This was a classic to me...phrases that almost feel mesmerizing even if the subject matter was difficult to read about at times. Several people have suggested they loved the first book even more, so I'm excited about that prospect :)

  2. Terrific review! You've made me more interested in this book. It sounds like it's very well-written and that it tackles strong themes.

    1. Suko, The Prisoner of Heaven is an incredibly well-written book. It is one of those that you know you'll return to from time to time just to experience the words and turn of phrase :)

  3. I really liked this one too, but I think the second one was my favorite. They are all great books, and all really different, which is why I love them. The author does such a great job with his characters, settings, and plots. These are some of my favorite books. Excellent review today!

    1. I can't wait to get my hands on the others, Zibilee!! I've read so many different comments on which one is best! :)

  4. Liked this one better than Angel but it was not nearly as good as Shadow.

    1. The consensus does seem to favor Shadow over the other two...since I loved this one so much, I can't wait to get my hands on Shadow :)

  5. I adored Shadow, and was entertained by Angel, but for some reason I've been sitting on this audio for a long time. It is short, so that is appealing. Maybe because I have such a love for Shadow that I don't want that marred in any way. Eventually though, I will get to this.

    1. I understand completely, Sandy. I'm still sitting on the last book in the Stieg Larrson trilogy...if I don't like it as well as the others, there's just nothing. And, if I do like it as well as the others, well, there's still just nothing. :(

  6. I totally love Fermin and his wit! I didn't enjoy The Prisoner of Heaven book as much as the others but I can't wait for the next one and see what is going to happen.

    1. I didn't realize there was another one coming up! I'll have to get on those first two quickly! Fermin says what we all want to say, but he thinks of it so much quicker and packs a punch! :)

  7. I've been wanting to get into this series for a while - I'm sure I'd love it!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  8. I really loved this book and I love the author's work! I have read most of his books (in english) - both adult and ya fiction