Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Discovering Carlos Ruiz Zafon: review of The Prisoner of Heaven

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón


During a holiday to Isla Mujeres, Mexico in February, 2015, a jewellery shop manager and I started chatting about books while my husband browsed for a birthday present for his sister. Henry recommended Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a Spanish writer, in particular his trilogy called 'The Cemetery of Forgotten Books.' I loved that title. I'm also pushover for books in which bookstores play a major role, well beyond the 'backdrop denoting some nerdy intelligence' role allotted to bookstores by most of the movie industry.

My non-pushy, book-loving, jewellery store friend Henry had not read any Canadian writers because not many of us are translated into Spanish and he prefers 'epics', plural, which I took to mean a series of books which are connected, going by his description of Zafon's work. Henry's English was ten times better than my Spanish. I think I recommended Michael Ondaatje, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Lawrence Hill and I hope I remembered to write down Fred Stenson and Miriam Toews as well. Honestly, I could easily have recommended about fifty Canadian authors if I'd had the time and a large enough notepad. But back to the point, which is the discovery of a wonderful new-to-me writer, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, who divides his time between Barcelona and Los Angeles.

As it happened, the remote library service which we lightkeepers use sent me Book #3 first, but somewhere on the book jacket maybe?, I read that the books can be read in any order. Certainly I felt that there was a Book #4 waiting when I finished this one. It is set in fascist Spain in the 30's and 40's, mostly, with well-paced fast-forwards to the 70's I think (the book has been returned so I'm going from memory here) and much of the action which isn't in and around the bookstore takes place in a hideous prison where unspeakable things are done by the sadist in charge to the usual threats to fascism: artists, novelists, union organizers, doctors, in short, the suspiciously literate and skilled who are possibly left-leaning socialists or rabid Communists to boot. No character is a stock 2-D persona, not even the sadist in charge who longs to be adored for his deathless prose and poetry and whose ability to social climb and to seek ways and means to self-aggrandizement sets a new high (or low) for bureaucrats with literary pretensions world-wide. Truly, a priceless character if he weren't so devoid of soul, heart, brain or basic humanity, of course.

A very famous novelist is in this medieval fortress of a prison and at first, the narrator (one of the bookstore employees) thinks he has gone barking mad but after prolonged study from a neighbouring cell, he arrives at the conclusion that this could be a most effective smoke-screen on the part of the novelist. The writing/translation is impeccable, the plot moves the reader along like a raft on a beautiful, treacherous river (this book kept me up until two a.m. several nights) and the characters are simply unforgettable. I now await the arrival of Book #1, The Shadow of the Wind and #2, The Rose of Fire and hope for a Book #4.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Interview with Sheila Peters for 'In The Shadow of the Mountain' radio program

I have always wanted to pick musical selections to go with an interview about my current book but no small or medium-sized publisher, armed with my latest death-defying prose or poetry, has ever been able to storm the barricades surrounding CBC's http://www.cbc.ca/thenextchapter  Shelagh Rogers on my bookish behalf. Alas. Heck.

But hark! Just before Christmas this past year, writer, publisher and broadcaster Sheila Peters www.sheilapeters.com of Smithers, BC asked if I would do just that.  O Happy Day! I picked Good Morning Starshine, Canadian Serena Ryder's http://www.serenaryder.com powerful version, from her album, If Your Memory Serves You Well. This great tune was written by Canadian Galt MacDermott galtmacdermot.com who won a Grammy in 1960 for African Waltz and also is famous for contributing to musicals like Hair and Two Gentlemen of Verona. I often hum this joyous ode to stars (nobody sings it like Serena so I stick to humming) when I'm out doing weather reports late at night or first thing in the very early morning when the stars bejewel the sky and earthly jets and satellites soar far below them.

Right After My Heart from the Almost Overnight album by Roy Forbes http://www.royforbes.ca has heartbreaking lyrics, about someone being trapped by life's circumstances, really feeling down and then getting out of that pit of despair and "looking all over the world, running right after my heart," which is so subtle, so bittersweet. I totally relate to both situations. The song showcases both his virtuoso guitar-playing and his amazing sense of timing and perfect pitch. Rolla's Roy Forbes and Peace River, Alberta poet and novelist Leona Gom https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leona_Gom were important role models for me when I began writing fiction, both such talented artists who wrote about Peace River issues and people, the long-suffering river and the climate, all of it. Their work inspired me to write my own Peace River poems and stories and radio plays.

Finally, after weeks of grey skies and the winter monsoons, there is the sweet George Harrison, my favourite Beatle by far, and his sublimely optimistic song, Here Comes the Sun. http://www.GeorgeHarrison.com But the host got playful on me and Sheila substituted the eerily nutso song, I'm Gonna Marry a Lighthouse Keeper, forever an ear-worm thanks to the sound track of Clockwork Orange, a movie which gave me nightmares and which I cannot watch to this day! Oh well. Lots of other people like it and know all the verses to boot.

Do check out the great variety of writers and musicians Sheila Peters has interviewed for her weekly radio show. As well as being a co-publisher at the fine and discerning Creekstone Press, Sheila is a very talented writer of poetry, short fiction, librettos, book reviews and novels who came to my attention when I read her first collection of short stories in 2001, Tending the Remnant Damage. Wow. Really, really good as is her latest novel from Caitlin Press, The Taste of Ashes. Okay, check it all out and enjoy!