Cemetery of Forgotten Books author Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 55

Font Size

Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón drinks a toast during a photo call before the presentation of his new book titled El Juego del Angel” (The game of the Angel ) at Liceu Theater in central Barcelona April 16, 2008. — REUTERS

CARLOS Ruiz Zafón, the Spanish author of internationally best-selling novel The Shadow of the Wind, has died. He was 55.

Hailed as the most read Spanish author since Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote), Mr. Ruiz Zafón died in Los Angele s last Friday, his publisher Editorial Planeta announced.

Mr. Ruiz Zafón grappled for two-and-a-half years with colon cancer, “a harsh disease, which he endured with irony and good temper to its invincible end,” his literary agent Antonia Kerrigan said in a statement.

Weidenfeld and Nicolson, his English publisher, wrote in a Twitter post that it is “deeply saddened” by the Spanish writer’s passing.

In a post via Twitter, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called him a “key novelist of our time.”

Mr. Ruiz Zafón’s works have been translated to more than 40 languages and have sold more than 38 million copies worldwide and garnered a number of awards.

Born on Sept. 25, 1964 in Barcelona, Mr. Ruiz Zafón worked in advertising before he made his debut in the literary world with the publication of young adult novel The Prince of Mist (El príncipe de la niebla) in 1993 which won Spain’s Edebe Award for Young Adult and Children’s Literature. This was followed by The Midnight Palace (El palacio de la medianoche, 1994), The Watcher in the Shadows (Las luces de septiembre, 1995), and Marina (1999).

Mr. Ruiz Zafón reached a breakthrough when he published a more adult-oriented mystery The Shadow of the Wind (La sombra del viento) in 2001. It was translated into English (as were his subsequent books) by Lucia Graves, daughter of the poet Robert Graves, in 2004 and became a massive international hit after selling more than 15 million copies across the globe.

Set in 1940s Barcelona, the novel follows as Daniel Sempere’s bookseller father takes him to the labyrinthine Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where he picks up a copy of The Shadow of the Wind written by an obscure author Julián Carax. With the help of his friends, Daniel seeks the true origins of Julián Carax and the mysterious figure that destroys every copy of the book.

“If you thought the true Gothic novel died with the 19th century, this will change your mind. Shadow is the real deal, a novel full of cheesy splendor and creaking trapdoors, a novel where even the subplots have subplots,” American novelist Stephen King wrote in a review of the novel in 2007.

The novel is the first book set in the Gothic mystery, Spanish Civil War-era set Cemetery of

Forgotten Books quartet — drawing heavily on the literary stylings of Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and Alexandre Dumas to name a few. The rest of the books in the series are The Angel’s Game (El juego del ángel, 2008), The Prisoner of Heaven (El prisionero del cielo, 2011), and The Labyrinth of the Spirits (El laberinto de los espíritus, 2017).

There are now literary walking tours based on the book series in the Gothic quarter of the already tourist-packed Barcelona.

UK-based news outlet The Independent in 2012 noted Mr. Ruiz Zafón’s fascination with his hometown Barcelona as “enthralling a character as Dickens’s London or [Christopher] Isherwood’s Berlin.”

Since the 1990s, he divided his time between Barcelona and Los Angeles, where he dabbled briefly with screenwriting.

In 2016, Mr. Ruiz Zafón told the Washington Post that he did not want his books to be adapted into movies as adapting them would be a “betrayal” of the work.

“If you touch it, it will explode. Nobody can make it better because nobody knows how it was put together. A lot of devices, they’re pushed to the limit. It’ll explode,” he said.

“I write because I really have no other choice. This is what I do. This is what I am,” Mr. Ruiz Zafón said on his website.

“Sometimes people ask me what piece of advice I would give to an aspiring author. I’d tell them that you should only become a writer if the possibility of not becoming one would kill you. Otherwise, you’d be better off doing something else. I became a writer, a teller of tales, because otherwise I would have died, or worse,” he added.

Mr. Ruiz Zafón is survived by his widow MariCarmen Bellver, to whom The Angel’s Game was dedicated. — Mark T. Amoguis