Notes from THE LABYRINTH OF SPIRITS read-along, pt. 1

I’m reading the final book in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s cycle of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, The Labyrinth of the Spirits. I had wanted to leave notes on Goodreads, but the Goodreads comments section truncates my responses, so it’s kind of hard to do. I’ll carry on there and come here to elaborate when I can.

What I want to do is give my American readers some historical context, which might help people who are unfamiliar with the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath understand some of the story’s nuance.

page 23: The novel opens in March of 1938, when Barcelona was mercilessly bombed by the rebels and their allies (the Italians and the Germans). These were civilian targets, not military, and only stopped after international outcry. Hitler’s Condor Legion was heavily involved in the Spanish Civil War and the German air force perfected the blitzkrieg in Spain. They primarily targeted civilians.


page 83: The character of Joaquin Maura seems to be something of a composite of many people who suffered during the Franco’s war of annihilation. Zafón doesn’t mention Maura’s specific crime, but it most likely consisted of supporting the Republican government, or even belonging to a union. When the Spanish Civil War ended, the Francoists used union or political lists to round up any Republicans, who might stand opposed to Franco and his rebels.

Writers, schoolteachers, and doctors were imprisoned solely based on their occupation. So when you see the word “criminal” in The Labyrinth of the Spirits, read it with tongue firmly in cheek.

Maura’s “crime” and subsequent imprisonment caused him to lose his family & his livelihood. His encounter with his adult daughter speaks to how many children were brainwashed into believing their fathers were criminals.

Maura resides in the Hotel Hispania with other "criminals,” awaiting death.

The fact that the novel’s protagonist, Alicia Gris (gris is gray in Spanish), resides in the Hotel Hispania is a clue to Alicia's political leanings. Her thoughts seem more in line with those of the defeated Republican government rather than those of her employer, a branch of Franco's secret police. Alicia is a hard bite of defiance in a world that hates women. God, I love her.

page 115: Alicia is paired with agent Vargas from a different unit. In their first scene together, Vargas asks Alicia if she can drive.

She replies: “I can barely open a bank account in this country without permission from a husband or father.”

Vargas says, “I see.”

“Allow me to doubt that.”

It's important to understand that one of the first things Franco's fascist regime did was severely curtail women's rights. Fascists have always feared powerful women. They still do.

page 126: Doña Mariana speaks of “national reconciliation,” which is a term meant to gloss over the memories of Franco's on-going brutalities. She becomes extremely miffed when Alicia challenges her on the subject.

Franco was big on “national reconciliation," which essentially amounted to “I won, so let's all get along,” or in 21st century jargon: “both sides.”

“National reconciliation” eventually became Spain's Amnesty Law, which was enacted in 1977, two years after Franco's death. The law freed political prisoners and allowed exiles to return to Spain, but it did nothing to prosecute Franco's regime for its human rights violations.

It was sort of Spain's way of saying BYGONES in the hopes that everyone would conveniently put the past behind them and move toward Spain's future. This is hard to do when you can’t turn soil in Spain without hitting mass graves full of Republicans shot by the fascists.

I’m on page 133. I’ll post again when I’ve collected a few more notes.