Meticulous and Cartesian like few writers, Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Barcelona, 1964-Los Angeles, USA, 2020) had all the characters and actions that were to make up his successful tetralogy well plotted in his head. The cemetery of forgotten books (about 40 million copies sold worldwide, of which about 10 million in Spain and Latin America). Although the author died on June 19 in Los Angeles, it is still possible to discover some more secret passageway that underground connects those books or unknown aspects of some of the indelible protagonists that populate them thanks to The city of steam (Planeta), a volume that collects 11 stories by the Barcelona writer, which complete his imaginary world and which today reaches bookstores (Wednesday, in Catalan), thus becoming a posthumous tribute. Three of the stories are rigorously unpublished, while a fourth is the micro-story Apocalypse in two minutes, appeared in English on glasses and bags from Chipotle, a popular Mexican restaurant chain in the US.
Ruiz Zafón’s followers will not be disappointed with The city of steam, of which an initial circulation of 150,000 copies has been made and of which translations into 14 languages are already being finalized. The Barcelona writer, who had already planned to compile his short narrative, largely scattered, into a single volume, season his stories with characters or echoes that reverberate from his famous production, all wrapped mostly with the “ghostly cloak of steam”, as he writes in one of them. The assiduous presence of that almost fetish word in the writer (which marks The wind’s shadow) and the atmosphere of “fog and whispers” that it entails permeates the scenography of the stories and justifies the title of a volume made up mostly of texts either appeared in the press or published in non-venal book editions between 2002 and 2012.
The volume begins with the three unpublished stories. The first marks the form and substance of the rest of the stories. Is about Blanca and goodbye, a first-time memory of the unhappy childhood of a writer, David Martín, who discovers at an early age, in parallel, impossible love and his vocation as a storyteller, living in the damp streets of the Barcelonan neighborhood of La Ribera in the early 20th century . The seasoned reader to the world zafoniano you will thus discover the spiritual genesis of the journalist and writer of the 1920s who sells his soul to the Mephistophelic editor Corelli and who stars in The game of the angel, the second installment of the tetralogy, although it will also appear in The Prisoner of Heaven, third.
At the door of an old book factory in Poblenou, with an extravagant profile, the fruit of the mind of a “diabolical architect,” calls the young pregnant woman protagonist of the second story, Nameless. Located near the East Cemetery, the oldest civil cemetery in Barcelona and the scene of the meetings between Martín and Corelli in The game of the angel, in the factory the girl will give birth to a child, both figures in the back room of another remarkable picture of the tetralogy. The writer’s taste for Gothic and romantic elements come together in the third unpublished story, A lady from Barcelona, in which a girl, exploited by her father (a failed photographer and gamer), dedicates herself to embodying deceased youths, feeding on unwary and tortured souls.
‘Prequel’ of the saga and Gaudí, in the US
Some good connoisseur of the most famous production by Ruiz Zafón, translated into 50 languages, can even read the story Fire rose a kind of prequel to the saga itself, as a printer named Sempere (undoubtedly, ancestor of the owner of the old-fashioned bookstore on Santa Anna Street, capital in The wind’s shadow) is forced by the Inquisition to translate the secret diary of Edmond de Luna, commissioned to design a labyrinthine hidden library for Emperor Constantine, in which everything points to the medieval origins of The cemetery of forgotten books. In the same way that, to learn more about the psychology of the woman injured in the Barcelona bombings in 1938 that appears in the last installment, The labyrinth of spirits, you have to go to the narration Alice at dawn to see how the episode went in those “cursed days.”
The demonstration that Ruiz Zafón’s overflowing imagination went beyond the world of his tetralogy, as well as the so-called Mist Trilogy, may be in the story Gaudí in Manhattan, where the brilliant architect travels to the United States to close the deal to build a skyscraper with an enigmatic potentate. “Sometimes, to do God’s work, the hand of the devil is necessary,” says Gaudí in the story, as he was then involved in the construction of the Sagrada Familia, near which Ruiz Zafón lived as a child. A writer who always played graphically in the design of his books with the spiral that the temple stairs trace and with the dragon on the door of the Casa Güell that Gaudí built in Pedralbes. Genius stuff.
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