The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If I could have any set of books with me on a desert island, I’d choose the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, the Johannes Cabal books by Jonathan L. Howard, and The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series by the one and only Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This mysterious, lyrical, dark and yet oddly uplifting series, set in Barcelona before, during and after their bloody Civil War, sucked me in from the first two books The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, and the third one, The Prisoner of Heaven, is just as enthralling.

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Here, we pick up the threads of Daniel Sempere, the protagonist from the first book. He is married, has a baby boy, is running his family bookstore, and continues his friendship with the jester-like Fermin Romero de Torres, who is one of the funniest characters in literature. Fermin is a hoot!

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The Prisoner of Heaven is the third book centering around the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, but if you haven’t read the other two novels, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, (both of which I have previously blogged) don’t let that stop you from picking this one up – because you see, Zafón has done something brilliant and perfectly fitting with these books. You can start with any book and read them in any order, and they all remain connected through this one, single, perfect place. In this book the story of Fermin Romero de Torres is detailed out piece by fascinating piece, and Daniel is given more information on the history of his parents. The relationship between Daniel and Bea is also in question – and references to both The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game crop up throughout the book in, sometimes, the most surprising of places.

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You can also clearly see Ruiz Zafón’s love for the works of Dumas and in particular, The Count of Monte Cristo. I mean, a secret prisoner, a Gothically dark and unbearable prison, the oddly beautiful way he describes dirt and corruption, making these otherwise revolting elements such a strong part of the overall narrative. Dumas seems to exert a non-stop fascination for modern writers in the Gothic tradition, which makes sense if you think about it. Secret passages, secret identities, secret loves……..all those literary elements that hook us and fascinate us still.

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However, the darkness that seems to live around every corner in post-war Barcelona is well on display here. Barcelona herself is as much a character in this book as anyone else, both the inherent beauty and mystery of this city, as well as its moody darkness and the gorgeous and run-down amusement park atop Mount Tibidabo, which featured prominently in both previous books and is still a huge part of the overall framework here. I can’t imagine these books taking place in any other place in the world, so strongly do they connect to the seedy, dark, violent and beautiful metropolis that is Barcelona.

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There are not too many food references in this book, but that’s ok because I was inspired by one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman. His method for making that classic Spanish dish huevos a la flamenco, or flamenco-style eggs, is so yum that I had to recreate it in honor of Fermin’s eternal love of serrano ham. The nice thing about this particular method is that you can scale it up or down depending on how many people you’re serving, with the ratio of 1-2 eggs per person.

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INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup cubed ham, Serrano preferably but use whatever you can find
1/2 cup chorizo
1 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
4 eggs
1/2 cup cooked green peas (use frozen bagged ones here)
4-6 strips roasted red peppers, from a jar
Salt and pepper to taste

METHOD
Heat the oven to 415F, and in a cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil and toss in the ham and chorizo. Cook until nicely browned.

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Chop up the tomatoes and line the bottom of four oven-safe ramekins with them.

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Spoon in the cooked ham and chorizo.

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Crack an egg over the tomatoes and meat mixture and season lightly with salt and pepper.

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Toss a spoonful of peas over each egg yolk.

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Add 3-4 strips of roasted red pepper on top of the peas.

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Bake for 15 minutes, or until the egg whites have set but the yolk is still a bit runny, because you need that unctuous golden ooziness to make this dish truly fantastic.

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Allow to cool while you toast some bread – we had green chile cheddar bagels –  and serve, dipping your bread into the nice, gooey egg yolk as you go. So delicious and quintessentially Spanish. ¡Olé!

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6 thoughts on “The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

  1. ….montecristo… is inherently quite so rich, particularly the jail (in english, maybe unintended but not necessarily, ie like lord wilmore, or Dantes-dante decent into a sort of hell, with his virgil-faria, rather quite metaphoric on many levels. ‘If’, on the obvious, or translated ‘yew’, both for the homophone and reference-symbol, old, the wood used both for construction and death, the fruit mostly a poison yet if treated precisely and the poisonous parts removed, still a possible nourishing) – and because of course written in novel form with accessible characters, overtook, a bit, Daedalus labyrinth as a sort of libretto-reference (let’s leave aside Joyce.) Calvino did a great story on it as well as others. I haven’t read these books as yet but likely will, also thanks to your post (the cemetery of forgotten book, the center, like the hidden truth, Daedelus hiding the monster child-minator, edmond discovering the world inside a prison.) I’m blabbing abit and thank you for that as well, as it’s been so long as I write this note I’m googling the subject and ‘eating’ those different sorts of eggs and meat – and it’s quite tasty. Maybe not as tasty as those baked eggs but at this moment I’m a bit stuffed, luckily, or would be searching for those as well. And then… a good time ago I spent about 6 months in barca – it was just before its explosion, as it were, or expantion, or just after the olympics. Good lord was it cheap then…. anyway. the town has remained in a warm-ish place in my heart and memory – it’s been so long since I’ve returned, but would like to see the semi-finished sagrada. So, your post has lenghtened my to-read and re-read list, and maybe re-started a return-to list. The eggs to-eat…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was in Barcelona in 1999 and remember it being fairly expensive, so it’s good to know there was a time when some things were affordable there. I don’t think La Familia Sagrada will ever be fully done, and I think that’s a good thing. How do you ever complete genius? Yes, the labyrinth is very much a strong theme in all of these books and in fact, the final book in the series has that word in its title. I’ll be blogging it in a few months. Finding the monster at the center of the labyrinth is a great literary trope, though I do think that oftentimes, the monster we find at the center is ourselves. Do make the eggs if you get a chance. The addition of the ham, chorizo and peas is delicious. I think a sprinkling of good sharp Cheddar or a tangy Manchego would not go amiss, either.

      Liked by 1 person

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