Post-War Spain According to Carlos Ruiz Zafón: The Scars of War on the City and Its People

©, Female combatants in the Spanish civil war

The Labyrinth of the Spirits (2016) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is the 4th and last installment of the series The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Each of them an independent narrative held together by a space called the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books”, where books that have been lost in history are stored in a labyrinth of shelves.


In this episode, a genius investigator, Alicia found herself on a mission to find Mauricio Valls, the cultural minister of the Franco administration who mysteriously vanished. Such a plot isn’t the most unique, but the different genres Zafón had utilized to tell the story makes it such a page-turner. At its bases, the novel is detective fiction, with Alicia as the detective, and Vargas her partner, they strive to uncover the disappeared minister’s secrets. However, on top of it, there are also traits of fantasy elements and historical relevance.



© Weidenfeld & Nicolson


Set in and post Spanish Civil War times, Alicia is an orphan who lost her parents because of power struggles, and her grandmother because of the war. Her hip was stabbed by flying glass debris as she was trying to escape from an airstrike. The wound has caused irreversible damage to her lower body, as well as a hindrance to her missions multiple times. However, Alicia refused to get further treatment, even when her boss Leandro Montalvo, head of Madrid’s secret police, offered to pay the medical fees.


Alicia emerges as an embodiment of the nation itself as the story develops. No matter what she does, her wound is a constant reminder of her past, a war scar that never fades. Spain is also suffering from the consequences of war. After the fightings, Spain found itself in a huge economic crisis and varies social issues. However, the government made no effort to bring stability and prosperity to the country, losing trusts from its people. Once a great nation, Spain has not been the on the smoothest track of development ever since. The slump lasts for decades, people become used to the situation and resilient to change.


Aside from historic references, the novel’s main theme “the Cemetery of Forgotten Books” also gave it a fantasy ambiance. A place only known to the chosen ones, it connected the main characters through the 4 novels. Humans depend on each other, all our lives are interlocked without us knowing. If you have the time I recommend starting from The Shadow of the Wind (2001), which is the 1st and the most well-known installment of the series.


By Sin Wai Ying Rachel



Categories: Books, Fantasy and Sci-fi, Historical Fiction

Tags: , , , , ,

1 reply


  1. This Week’s Features: The World of Fantasy – Extending the Literature Classroom:

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