Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Translated from Spanish by Lucia Graves
David Martín is the protagonist of this dark and mysterious tale that takes place in Barcelona during the first 30 years of the 20th century. The author endows the city with charm and malice, giving it a personality to mimic the citizens and the times in which the story takes place.
This book has been compared by at least one reviewer to Dan Brown’s elaborate tales of Robert Langdon, and I can see the similarities. They both involve cerebral heroes with the ability to physically extricate themselves from diabolical situations. Zafon’s books have been wildly popular in Spain and across much of Europe.
The first 100 pages or so tells us the story of David’s tragic youth and early career: mother dies; father is alcoholic and then is murdered in front of 9-year old David. He is helped by local bookseller and newspaper journalist to begin a career as a writer. After some success publishing a series of trashy novels under a pseudonym, David yearns to write something worthwhile under his own name. As the old bookseller tells him, “Books contain the soul of the author and all those who read them.” (I’m paraphrasing).
Enter the Angel/ Devil/Andreas Corelli who makes a deal with Martín. In exchange for large sums of cash and a return to robust (and eternal) youth & health David must write a book which will spark a new religion. In a moment of rare candor Martín confesses that his childhood dream was to become Aesop and Corelli states that he wished to become God. The deal is made and the real trouble begins for our protagonist.
David does write the book but is afraid of his own capacity for producing something which could incite violence and destruction. There is some very interesting dialogue between Corelli and Martín as they talk about the power of fable or story. Corelli states that all Holy books are great stories whose plots deal with the basic aspects of human nature, setting them within dogma. I happen to agree wholeheartedly with his statement that humans learn and absorb (facts/truths) through narrative, not lessons or theories.
Corelli instructs David to create a messiah figure who exudes a warrior image that would appeal to youthful males as well as jaded adults who feel that the world is out to get them. He must also create an enemy – someone or some group that the followers can collectively hate and seek to destroy. Although it is not stated as such in Angel’s Game it appeared to me that David Martín’s “fable” was the story of Hitler and the Holocaust.
I must confess that I was confused as I neared the end of the book. Was David insane or was he being led to believe he was mad? If it was all a dream or madness I would have been totally disgusted with the author. I’ll leave it here by saying that I found the ending satisfying as we fast-forward to many years later and some of the loose ends are tied together.