The OF Blog: Cemetery of Lost Books

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cemetery of Lost Books

This passage/translation is for those of you who either might not be familiar with Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind or for those who loved that book and want to know more about the Cemetery of Lost Books. This passage is from near the beginning of Chapter 20 in Part I of the second book, The Angel's Game (first the original Spanish, then my English translation):

- ¿Cómo elige uno un solo libro entre tantos?

Isaac se encogió de hombros.

- Hay quien prefiere creer que es el libro el que le escoge a él...el destino, por así decirlo. Lo que ve usted aquí es la suma de siglos de libros perdidos y olvidados, libros que estaban condenados a ser destruidos y silenciados para siempre, libros que preservan la memoria y el alma de tiempos y prodigios que ya nadie recuerda. Ninguno de nosotros, ni los más viejos, sabe exactamente cuándo fue creado ni por quién. Probablemente es casi tan antiguo como la misma ciudad y ha ido creciendo con ella, a su sombra. Sabemos que el edificio fue levantado con los restos de palacios, iglesias, prisiones y hospitales que alguna vez pudo haber en este lugar. El origen de la estructura principal es de principios del siglo XVIII y no ha dejado de cambiar desde entonces. Con anterioridad, el Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados había estado oculto bajo los túneles de la ciudad medieval. Hay quien dice que en tiempos de la Inquisición gentes de saber y de mente libre escondían libros prohibidos en sarcófagos y los enterraban en los osarios que había por toda la ciudad para protegerlos, confiando en que generaciones futuras pudieran desenterrarlos. A mediados del siglo pasado se encontró un largo túnel que conduce desde las entrañas del laberinto hasta los sótanos de una vieja biblioteca que hoy en día está sellada y oculta en las ruinas de una antigua sinagoga del barrio del Call. Al caer las últimas murallas de la cuidad se produjo un corrimiento de tierras y el túnel quedó inundado por las aguas del torrente subterráneo que desciende desde hace siglos bajo lo que hoy es la Rambla. Ahora es impracticable, pero suponemos que durante mucho tiempo ese túnel fue una de las vías principales de acceso a este lugar. La mayor parte de la estructura que usted puede ver se desarrolló durante el siglo XIX. No más de cien personas en toda la ciudad conocen este lugar y espero que Sempere no haya cometido un error al incluirle a usted entre ellas... (pp. 167-168)

And now, my English translation:

"How does one choose a single book among so many?"

Isaac shrugged his shoulders.

"There are those who prefer to believe that it is the book that chooses him [its owner]...destiny, so to speak. That which you see here is the sum of centuries of books lost and forgotten, books that were condemned to be destroyed and silenced forever, books that preserve the memory and the soul of times and prodigies which none now recall. None of us, not even the most elderly, knows when it was created or by whom. Probably it is almost as old as the city itself and had been growing with it, in its shadow. We know that the building was raised with the rest of the palaces, churches, prisons, and hospitals that some time there could have been in this place. The origin of the principal structure is from the beginning of the 18th century and it has not stopped changing since then. Previously, the Cemetery of Lost Books had been hidden under the tunnels of the medieval city. There are those who say that in the times of the Inquisition knowledgeable and free thinking people hid prohibited books in sarcophagi and interred them in ossuaries which were throughout the city in order to protect them, confidant that generations would disinter them. In the middle of the past century a large tunnel was encountered that led from the labyrinth's entrails up to the cellars of an old library that nowadays is sealed and hidden in the ruins of an old synagogue of the Call barrio [neighborhood]. The fall of the last of the city walls produced a flow of earth and the tunnel remained inundated by the waters of the subterranean torrent which descended centuries ago under that which is the Boulevard today. Now it is impracticable, but we assume that for a long time that tunnel was one of the principal means of access to this place. The greater part of this structure that you can see was developed during the 19th century. No more than 100 people in all the city know of this place and I hope that Sempere has not committed an error by including you among them...
So...does this passage make you a bit more curious about The Angel's Game or about the Cemetery of Lost Books in general?


Daniel Ausema said...

Very. I almost grabbed it off the shelf the other day, but I need to be more disciplined in finishing what I have first. Hopefully I'll get to it in a month or so.

Las Ramblas, by the way, is usually left untranslated--in Barcelona it's more a name than a general boulevard. It's a main street of sorts, lots of touristy shops, a large and very old marketplace, etc. I don't remember seeing it often in the singular like this...but it has been over 10 years since I was there, so I could be forgetting.

Lsrry said...

Yeah, I debated whether or not to translate it or not, as it did convey the sense of being The Place, rather than a place, but I decided to go ahead and do that to give a sense of what Las Ramblas is for those who don't understand Spanish. I think I capitalized it in my translation to hint at its specialness, though, although perhaps leaving it untranslated would have been more effective.

Anonymous said...

Larry :P your translation rocked my socks. Capturing that book's soul is HARD, yet, you have done quite a job of it, :P if you ever translate it completely, I want to read it!

I loved that one, so, an enjoyable English version is a treat for me.


Lsrry said...

Thanks, Oscar, considering how hard you've been with me on my choices at times (for which I'm very grateful) :D

Unknown said...

Oh, my, I really do want to read that book.

Lsrry said...

And to think I haven't translated anything that gives away the plot details. Let's just say the book's first paragraph gives a hint of its theme and that the plot revolves around that a quite devilish fashion ;)

Mihai A. said...

OK, I have to say that almost daily I visit the site of Polirom the Romanian publishing house which has the rights for Zafon's novels. They say that it will be published at the beginning of the year. Faster, faster :D
Also I believe that in June 2010 it will be published in English Carlos Ruiz Zafon's first novel, "El principe de la niebla" ("The Prince of Mist").

Las Ramblas is a wonderful part of Barcelona. Hack, I love the entire city :) You see I am not very fond of big cities, I prefer the smaller and peaceful ones, but my favorite city is Barcelona. And I plan at least to revisits of Barcelona in my life ;) And if you take the little streets left or right of Las Ramblas you can find many interesting places.

And the construction of the Cemetery of Lost Books in the text made me think of the building of nations as well, with the pieces of his historical periods. Also I believe that the state is correct sometimes, a book can choose the reader :)

ediFanoB said...

Can't wait to read The Angel's Game.
English Paperback will be released in October 2009 in Germany.

I don't speak Spanish. So I don't know whether your translation is good or not.

BUT compared to the English version of The Shadow of the Wind you did an excellent job.

marbelcal said...

I've preordered The Angel's Game. June is so far away.

Anonymous said...

Is The Angel's Game a sequel to The Shadow of the Wind?

Lsrry said...

Thanks for the compliment, as the translator for the English edition is none other than Robert Graves' daughter, Lucia.

And as for the question of whether or not The Angel's Game is a sequel, it is a prequel set 20 years or so before the events of The Shadow of the Wind.

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