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Bestselling Spanish Novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón Dies At 55

Novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafon presents his then-new book <em>The Labyrinth of the Spirits</em> at a Barcelona church in 2016.
Pau Barrena
/
AFP via Getty Images
Novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafon presents his then-new book The Labyrinth of the Spirits at a Barcelona church in 2016.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón was frequently called the most-read Spanish author since Cervantes. His breakout 2001 novel The Shadow of the Wind follows Daniel, a young boy in Barcelona just after World War II, whose father takes him to The Cemetery of Lost Books, a mysterious bookstore at the heart of the city. He chooses a book from the shelves, a novel also called The Shadow of the Wind. And as he grows up, he realizes that sinister forces are interested in the book, and in destroying everything ever written by its author.

The Shadow of the Wind sold millions of copies worldwide, and became the first of a four-book series set in the world of the Cemetery of Lost Books. It even caught the attention of Stephen King, who told Entertainment Weekly "If you thought the true gothic novel died with the 19th century, this will change your mind."

Zafón spent his last years in Los Angeles, but he was born in Barcelona, a city which served as the backdrop — almost a living character — in many of his books. He told the Independent newspaper in 2012 that "the haunting of history is ever present in Barcelona."

A statement from his Spanish publisher, Planeta, called him "one of the best contemporary novelists," and included a quote from The Shadow of the Wind, from Daniel's father describing the bookstore to his son:

"Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it." In the book, the passage continues: "Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens."

Zafón died Friday in Los Angeles. He was 55 and had been diagnosed with colon cancer.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Petra Mayer (she/her) is an editor (and the resident nerd) at NPR Books, focusing on fiction, and particularly genre fiction. She brings to the job passion, speed-reading skills, and a truly impressive collection of Doctor Who doodads. You can also hear her on the air and on the occasional episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour.