I've just belatedly discovered Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a Spanish novelist from Barcelona who's apparently written a couple of interesting novels about Barcelona in the first half of the 20th century: Shadow of the Wind and a prequel of sorts, The Angel's Game. Barcelona l'entre deux guerres? I'm so there.
To be frank, I'm always a little suspicious of books described, as the first one was, as "an international phenomena" [sic]. Even when the book marketer appears to know the difference between Greek irregular plural and singular endings, I worry that novels with this label fall into the same category as those of Paulo Coehlo, James Canfield, and Khalid Hosseini: deluding the typical middlebrow "bookworm" into believing that he or she (and it's usually, to my everlasting mortification and shame, a "she") is a broad and deep reader of Great Literature, in part through the inclusion of some "inspirational" New Age and/or exotic element that never rises to the level of true magic realism or authenticity. It sounds as though The Angel's Game may verge on this classification, and that Zafon, having apparently relocated to the epicenter of literary badness (Los Angeles), may be tending in that direction, but I'll keep an open mind and read it anyways...after I've read the first novel, which might be pretty damn good. Sounds like he's Catalan writing in Spanish to get a wider audience--Catalan purists are probably balking, but that doesn't necessarily discredit the book. The translator is Lucia Graves, granddaughter of Robert, though a literary pedigree like hers doesn't always guarantee a brilliant turn of language.
Last night, unable to sleep, I started Snow (Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature). While the jury's still out on whether it's truly good or merely a subway read masquerading as something more profound, I found particularly chilling one early section in which a mild-mannered university administrator is confronted in a pastry shop by a small-town religious fanatic apparently intent on avenging the suicides of a group of devout young Muslim women prohibited by the State from wearing headscarves to class. It really resonated with me after all the news about the appalling murder of George Tiller a couple weeks ago and the way it's been condoned by the right-wing media and the born-again Christian community. The Turkish struggle between modern secular and the traditional religious sensibilities and the resulting violence is instructive. You would think that sort of thing would be behind us, the most powerful, technologically-advanced nation on Earth, but you'd be wrong...and I'm secretly terrified of the political and cultural instability concealed beneath our current optimism.