Can we really compare Carlos Ruiz Zafon to Gabriel Garcia Marquez?
I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude a long, long time ago and I’ve re-read it many times since then. In April 2014, I read The Shadow of the Wind. One of the things that attracted me to the book is that the blurb on the back cover compared these two books.
I enjoyed Shadow and, on the evening I finished the book, was determined to read more of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s work. I think that I’ve read everything by Marquez and my logic was that he was unlikely to write any more books (he was born in 1927) so Zafon would become my ‘new’ author.
The next day, April 17th, I heard that Marquez had passed away. That’s curious timing, but somehow is typical of the way an author’s work is so much a part of my life. But the question remained. Can the two really be compared?
His writing is largely influenced by his grandparents, who played a great part in bringing him up. Both grandparents, he recalled, were incredible storytellers and many of the stories in Solitude (and his other books) originate from childhood and the tales he was told by his grandparents.
I tend not to like labelling books into specific genres but Solitude is often described as ‘mystical realism’ and reading about his early life, I believe that this aspect of his work was influenced by his grandmother. She was a superstitious woman who saw magic and ‘signs’ in everyday occurrences.
I feel that Solitude has its roots with his grandparents and their home. They would have been born at about the time when the novel begins and many of his grandfather’s stories are woven into the plot.
One Hundred Years of Solitude
It is mystical and magical but also very earthy, for want of a better word. This describes both the plot and the characters.It seems a little strange to write that I feel as though I know the characters but they are ‘with’ me a lot of the time.
In case that sounds a little stuffy and serious, I should also point out that parts of the book are incredibly funny.
Zafon is of a different generation. he was born in 1964 so is young enough to be the son of Marquez or even – at a push – the grandson.
Both authors write in Spanish and their works are translated in English (and many other languages besides). One immediate similarity between the two books is that in both cases, as soon as I read the last page, I immediately turned back to page one and started reading it again.Getting back to the issue of mystical realism, that’s not how I see Shadow.
It is a mystery,and a truly delicious one but in my opinion, I see nothing mystical. Maybe it’s just me?
And it is.
Like Solitude, I wanted to stay up all night reading it. I was captivated and subjected to the ‘I’ll just read a few more pages’ syndrome.
The plot is a little convoluted and like Solitude, it’s not the sort of book you can easily put down – it’s better read in one delicious chunk. Take it with you on vacation or a long haul flight.
The first lines
When I started reading Shadow, because it had been compared to Solitude, I was immediately struck by the similarities of the first lines.
There was an ah-ha moment. But wait. Read the first lines below. They would have reminded me of Solitude too. Are they really similar? In some ways. Every novelist knows that the first line captures the potential reader’s attention. (Remember 1984 and the clocks that were striking thirteen?) The only real similarities here are ‘father’ and ‘remember’.
Both grab the reader’s attention. Discover ice? Why, ice doesn’t need discovering, it’s in my refrigerator. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books? What could that be? The firing squad? What is going to happen here?
First lines from other novels
All three of these are very Marquez-like to me.
Points to consider
- Both men are supreme storytellers and this is the first point of similarity. Both use language that draws you into the book, plus words and phrases that lead your imagination to other places.
Because the timescales are so different (one hundred years as opposed to ten) the pace of the action is very different. Solitude’s earliest ‘timestamp’ mentions Sir Francis Drake and ends in the twentieth century. The main part of Shadow takes place just after the Spanish Civil War.
- Civil wars are a feature in both books, but more so in Solitude where there is active participation. In Shadow, the Spanish Civil War is behind us but the devastated country forms the backdrop and an explanation for society.
- Although my knowledge of Zafon is limited, it seems that he is hugely influenced by crime thrillers (which he has spoken of during interviews). Marquez seems to be less influenced by other writers; history and his grandparents are favoured. For example, Love in the Time of Cholera is based on the romance of his own parents and enhanced by another true-life event.
- Both authors are masters of the unexpected. It’s such a long time ago that I first read Solitude so I really can’t remember small reactions and thoughts. but with Shadow – read recently – I recall many moments of sheer surprise and astonishment. I’m sure it was the same with Solitude too.
Here, I am comparing an old much-loved friend to an exciting new acquaintance so my judgement is naturally coloured by this.
I don’t yet know if Shadow will stand the test of time in the same way as Solitude. I suspect it will.Comparing two books is a curious business. You could easily, for example, compare One Hundred Years of Solitude and John Fowles’ The Magus. Like Water for Chocolate is another contender.
When you’ve lived for quite a few years, read quite a lot of books and seen plenty of action on the screen, there will always be aspects of a new book that reminds you of something.
For example, in The Shadow of the Wind, a passage about stone statues of angels made me think of Doctor Who and that’s a huge leap. But what about the prose? What about the writing itself?
Both books were translated from Spanish. There are bound to be coincidences in names and so on (how many books written in English mention ‘John’ or ‘London’?) But apart from this, which is natural, I suspect that there are certain phrases, metaphors, comparisons and sayings that are commonly used in Spanish but not in English.This would explain the ‘feel’ of the language used.
Will you enjoy these books?I’m fairly confident in saying that if you enjoy one, you’ll enjoy the other. Don’t however, expect them to be the same.
I feel that the reviewers who bundled the two books together in their reviews seized upon a few coincidences (which are likely to happen with many books) and thought that the comparison would make good copy.The fact that Solitude has a character called Prudencio Aguilar and Shadow has a character with the same surname does not make the books the same. Both have a person (a briefly mentioned fact in both books and not particularly relevant) who speak only in Latin may seem strange to English speakers/readers but is that the case in Spanish-speaking countries?
One Hundred Years of Solitude has endured. Will The Shadow of the Wind? I have a feeling that it will.
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