Tag Archives: Jonathan Davis

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books: The Shadow of the Wind, Angel’s Game, The Prisoner of Heaven, The Rose of Fire by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves

Cemetery of Lost Books 1.2.3 plus Rose

Well, crud. In spite of making a list and checking it twice, thrice, and more, I read these in about as ‘wrong’ order as I possibly could. But before I offer two preventative options, some quick background: the full Cemetery of Forgotten Books by internationally bestselling Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón;is a series of four volumes, plus a single (thus far) short story. For us non-original text readers, the series is translated by Lucia Graves, the daughter of renowned English poet and novelist Robert Graves (I, Claudius). While I can’t comment on word-to-word accuracy, more than a few phrases carried an anachronistic din; would a well-raised teenager in the 1920s (no matter how feisty) speaking to an older man thusly – “‘I’m cold and my bum’s turned to stone …,'” much less tell him to “‘shut up'”? Original readers, please do chime in.

But back to order. Literally. The first three Forgotten Books are pictured above, together with the short story, “The Rose of Fire,” which is available as a free download by clicking here. I can’t find any further information on the fourth and final Book – if anyone has any tidbits, do share! Nope, I’m not above begging!

So here’s two suggested paths through the Cemetery:

  1. You could choose the books in the order they were published: Shadow, Angel’s, “Rose,” Prisoner.
  2. Or, you could choose to read chronologically by narrative: “Rose,” Angel’s, Shadow, Prisoner.

Inexplicably, I ended up reading Prisoner, Angel’s, Shadow, “Rose.” I went audible (highly recommended!) with each of the three novels voiced by a different reader: Peter Kenny (Prisoner) was the trio’s best for his diverse characterizations, Jonathan Davis (Shadow) felt a wee bit subdued in comparison, and Dan Stevens (Angel’s) was the most memorable purely because of his star factor [Stevens is currently best known as the late – sniff, sniff! – Cousin Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey; he had hidden Kindle-sized pockets sewn into his Downton costumes so he could spend every available second reading for his 2012 Man Booker judging duties!].

All that said, the most important detail to take from this multi-volume post is to read them all, in whatever order you can grasp your hands around. For now, let’s choose option 2. Why know more before you need to? Not only is ignorance bliss, but delayed gratification will surely keep you swiftly turning the pages.

Let “Rose” set the mood by explaining the 15th-century origins of the titular Cemetery of Lost Books, and introduces the literary Sempere family. The Cemetery and the Semperes – all ensconced in Barcelona, a darkly magical city with a terrible history – appear in every volume. Fast forward to the 1920s in Angel’s Game, in which a young writer, David Martín, survives a brutal childhood during which Sempere & Sons was his only refuge: “My favorite place in the whole city.” He begins his career writing newspaper articles about grisly murders, then moves on to his own popular horrific fictions published regularly under a pseudonym. He falls in love with an elusive woman he loses, but is forever adored by a young girl Isabella who refuses to leave him. When the one and only title that bears his true name is ignominiously dismissed, he begins to write a new book in fulfillment of a shockingly lucrative contract for a mysterious foreign publisher. And then the real-life murders begin … and multiply.

Almost three decades later, in The Shadow of the Wind, the Sempere son, Daniel, is on a quest of his own. After discovering Julián Carax’s novel of the same name, Daniel quickly learns that his is one of the very last copies in the world. But a devoted reader always wants more – even after learning that some monster is out there burning every Carax book – and Daniel decides he’s going to find Carax himself.

A few years have passed when the The Prisoner of Heaven begins with Daniel now a husband and father. His closest friend, devoted bookshop employee, and sworn bachelor, Fermín Romero de Torres, is about to get married to the one true love of his life. Although Daniel has never doubted Fermín’s love and loyalty to the Sempere family, he needs to find some definitive answers when a wealthy stranger makes a surprise purchase at the family bookstore and is eventually revealed to be using Fermín’s own beloved name. The real – or not? – Fermín’s confessions returnDavid Martín and his devoted assistant Isabella to the page, revealing a multi-layered past Daniel never even knew he had.

Concepts and constructs of authorship, identity, so-called truth, perspectives of good and evil and every grey zone in between, are all here just waiting to be questioned and challenged. Meanwhile, literature literally saves lives, from Great Expectations to The Count of Monte Cristo; the 2013 paperback version of Prisoner includes a “P.S.” section that ends with Zafon’s own eclectic list of “Dead Fellows You Should See and Read Frequently” (from Brontë to Faulkner to Dos Passos!). Yes, each novel stands alone, but when read together, the connections become sublime, even at the price of your own memory (sanity?!); interwoven and overlapping, whose story is reliable, who is even able to speak the truth, who will deceive you once again, prove to be the most daunting mysteries of all. Beyond the body count, go ahead and attempt to figure it all out … at least until the next book comes along and turns all theories to … well … fiction. Superbly done.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2004, 2009, 2012, 2012 (United States)

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Filed under .Fiction, ..Adult Readers, .Translation, European, .Audio

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Here are a few new things I learned from Junot Díaz‘s 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winner that many of you already read long ago …

I get why Junot Díaz’s “guiltiest pleasure of all” is Naoki Urasawa’s 18-volume manga, Monster. I’m right there with him!

I now recognize the splattered gruesome-ness of the cover.

I understand why Díaz deserved the Pulitzer. Who else can go so seamlessly and effortlessly from Toto to Dungeons & Dragons to Scooby-Doo to Elvish … and spout perfect political theory, rant about colonialism, and enlighten you about “linguistic and computational complexity”?

I rejoice once more for Jonathan Davis who narrates Oscar Wao in the audible version, who rightfully won Audible.com’s 4th Annual Tournament of Champions of Audiobooks earlier this year with his recitation of Jack Weatherford’s Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Davis works the same fluid magic with Oscar and company.

But back to Wao (WOW!). In spite of Oscar’s name on the cover, the contents are shared by his extended family, including the many unrequited loves of his life. Narrated by Yunior (who I’m assuming is the same Yunior from Díaz’s short story collection, Drown), the story begins and ends in the Dominican Republic with Oscar’s first and last amors.

Dovetailed with Oscar’s endless search for love – from his 7-year-old Dominican Casanova self, to his rotund New Jersey teenaged years obsessed with role-playing games, to his depressed overweight adult incarnation scribbling hundreds of pages of fantasy novels (not to mention his expansive erudite vocabulary) – is an intricate family saga that spans two countries, three generations, multiple decades, and the heinous reign of “Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, the Dictatingest Dictator who ever Dictated.”

From the barest distance, Yunior – as Oscar’s friend and short-term roommate who should have been Oscar’s brother-in-law if only he could keep his manhood from wandering – omnisciently fills in Oscar’s family tree. Oscar’s protective older sister Lola is a feisty, independent woman forced to grow up too soon by a mother incapable of showing the love her daughter craves. Mother Beli with secrets of her own, is dying from cancer, but determined to protect her children any way she can. And Oscar and Lola’s waiting grandmother La Inca back in DR is the holder of an ancestral nightmare her grandchildren will never know, but from which we readers cannot turn away.

The resulting collage of legends, memories, curses, and history is as gorgeous as it is horrific. Brief, yes. Wondrous, yes. And shattering, funny, wrenching, inspiring, tortuous … and finally, hopeful. “The beauty! The beauty,” the final page hauntingly echoes …

Readers: Adult

Published: 2007


Filed under .Fiction, ..Adult Readers, Carribbean American, .Audio

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

Hurray (itself a word of Mongol origin) for cultural anthropologist and Macalester College professor Jack Weatherford who reclaims Genghis Khan from a much maligned history that defines him as “the quintessential barbarian,” leading an army of “savage hordes lusting after gold, women, and blood.”

Instead, with absolutely meticulous research – including years of extensive travel through thousands of miles of what was once Mongol territory, close collaborations with archeologists and political scientists, and access to the secret coded text of the original Mongolian documents, the so-called Secret History of the Mongols [click here for a full English translation] – Weatherford presents, if not the greatest ruler the world has ever seen, then certainly the ruler who had the most lasting legacy in creating the modern world. Genghis Khan conquered “more than twice as much as any other man in history” – between 11 to 12 million contiguous square miles, some 30 countries (on today’s modern map) with included over three billion people. His own Mongol tribe numbered a mere million, “smaller than the workforce of some modern corporations,” and his elite army of 100,000 warriors was “a group that could comfortably fit into the larger sports stadiums of the modern era.”

“In American terms,” Weatherford wryly clarifies in his “Introduction,” the accomplishment of Genghis Khan might be understood if the United States, instead of being created by a group of educated merchants or wealthy planters, had been founded by one of its illiterate slaves, who, by the sheer force of personality, charisma, and determination, liberated America from foreign rule, united the people, created an alphabet, wrote the constitution, established universal religious freedom, invented a new system of warfare, marched an army from Canada to Brazil, and opened roads of commerce in a free-trade zone that stretched across the continents.”

Indeed, today’s leaders would do well studying the life and practices eight centuries past of the great Khan: he also abolished torture, built a governing system based on merit, loyalty, and achievement rather than social privilege by birth, and attempted to institute a single international law. Even as the Mongol Empire eventually collapsed, Genghis Khan’s descendants continued to rule various parts for centuries, with titles that range from emperor, king, shah, and even the Dalai Lama.

Although Genghis Khan dies (or as the Mongols describe death as “‘ascended into heaven'”) halfway through the book, Weatherford follows Genghis Khan’s immeasurable legacy all the way through the 20th century. The journey is by turns entertaining and aggravating, but always enlightening, filled with countless ‘aha’ moments such as Chaucer’s awe and devotion to Genghis Khan as immortalized in the longest chapter of The Canterbury Tales, the origins of the medical term “Mongoloid” for mentally challenged babies who were proof that “one of the child’s ancestors had been raped by a Mongol warrior,” the roots of the China/Tibet animosity, and the creation of the first global society centuries before the internet made us instant neighbors throughout the world.

While Modern World is a resounding historical reclamation of Genghis Khan and his legacy, it’s simply also an epic story incredibly well-told. Set aside those dry history tomes … let Weatherford take you on this unforgettable adventure across continents and centuries … to read is to believe.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2004


Filed under .Nonfiction, ..Adult Readers, .Biography, Mongolian, .Audio