Carlos Ruiz Safón’s El Príncipe de la Niebla (The Prince of Mist) is the first Spanish book I finished in its entirety.
After 28 levels or 840 hours of Spanish education, I can finally claim that I finished one Spanish book. Years ago, when I was in level 5, a mere babe in the Instituto Cervantes – Manila hierarchy, I read Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water For Chocolate) by Laura Esquievel. I started with confidence because I had read the book in English and watched the Spanish version of the film with English subtitles. As I flipped through the pages and encountered many verbs in the past tense (my grasp of pretérito indefinido and pretérito imperfecto was nonexistent at this point), that confidence dipped to all-time low. I stopped at page 135. I remember this page number because it represents a mini-failure that I plan to remedy in the near future. In level 23, the professor assigned Carlotta Fainberg by Antonio Muñoz – Molina for class discussion. However, we discussed only a few chapters, and I cannot remember at which part I gave up. That book gave me massive headaches. 🙂
In the recently concluded level, the professor assigned one chapter of El Príncipe de la Niebla to be read and discussed every week for nine consecutive weeks. The book has 18 chapters. Instead of reading nine chapters as mandated, my inner diva forced me to go beyond what was required.
After four weeks of intermittently reading the book, couple with watching one episode of Los Simuladores per week, I finally arrived at the ultimate page of the book, the epilogue. Instead of exhaustion, I felt contentment, even just for that particular moment. Sure, I had to encircle several words whose meaning I do not know and look them up in RAE (Real Academia Española), which in itself is a tedious chore, and I must have lost cupfuls of blood due to nosebleed, but I thoroughly enjoyed the journey that transported me to Max’s world of saltwater, mist, clowns, and men with deadly secrets.
El Príncipe de la Niebla is a mystery novel for young adults. Although I am far removed from that stage of life cycle, my Spanish is somewhere in that level. The book revolves around Max Carver, a thirteen year old European boy who grows up in the midst of World War II. His father, Maximilian Carver, a watchmaker, decides to transplant the family from the city to an idyllic town near the sea to avoid the ramifications of war. On the eve of Max’s birthday, he, his mother, Andrea, and his sisters, Alicia and Irina, reluctantly pack their bags for the imminent transfer.
Later on, the Carvers occupy the house by the sea formerly owned by Dr. Richard Fleischmann and his wife Eva Gray. The Fleischmann’s young son, Jacob, drowned in the water fronting the house. Max slowly discovers that the house, the garden near the house, and the ever-present sea keep something sinister under wraps. Something that Max needs to wage war against to survive and to save his loved ones.
Here are 10 things I like about El Príncipe de la Niebla (The Prince of Mist):
- Max Carver is fearless.
Max does things I am afraid of doing, which include but not limited to, going to an eerily deserted garden at the break of dawn, watching scary movies at night, alone, and in the middle of a storm, going inside a dark mausoleum, alone, battling an evil clown, and riding a bike. Aside from being brave, he is also intuitive, smart, and loyal. The cherry on top of this Max ice cream is his sense of humor that remains present even in perilous times.
Max mercilessly teases his 15-year old sister Alicia and his 17-year old friend Roland. As the third wheel, Max becomes invisible when the teenagers exchange glances, so Max declares “estoy aquí” (I am here!) or mutations thereof when this happens. However, the boy is sensitive enough to let the lovebirds have some privacy when he witnesses them kissing.
- Alicia + Roland = Love.
At the start of the novel, Alicia seems like an insufferable older sister who bullies her siblings because she can. Fortunately, her demeanor changes once she meets Roland. The electricity between them is palpable and instead of fighting the obvious attraction, they go for it with eyes wide open. However, their love story is short-lived. El Príncipe de la Niebla attempts to kidnap/drown Alicia twice. In the second try, Roland has to give his own life to save hers. Their last kiss is memorable, not because of passion but due to its life-saving purpose. Roland kisses Alicia on the lips to say goodbye and to give her his last breath so she can survive. If that is not true love, I do not know what is.
- El Príncipe de la Niebla is evil personified.
El Príncipe de la Niebla (The Prince of Mist) is also known as Doctor Caín and el payaso (the clown). As his first persona, he appears with the mist to grant the greatest wish of people and disappear with the mist leaving in his wake the corpses of those whose wish he has granted. As Doctor Caín, he styles himself as a magician who also grants wishes in exchange for something dear to the wisher. As the clown, he is a statue whose fangs are as long and sharp as his talons. What is consistent is the symbol of six-pointed star inscribed in a circle, his power to dog his victims until he claims their lives, and his take no prisoners outlook. He is also an astute businessman; his transactions have interests (one life is the payment, another as interest).
- Maximilian Carver is a colorful persona.
In his limited appearance, the watchmaker is able to leave an indelible mark. He tells his family about the move months after he bought the house with a smile on his face instead of an apology. Also, he gives wonderful birthday presents, a unique watch and a book about Copernicus for Max. Then, he fixes old machines to make them work rather smoothly. Lastly, he is funny enough to successfully banter with Max.
- Robert Fleischmann, Eva Gray and Victor Kray love triangle.
They went to the university together and spent their waking hours in each other’s company. Both men fell in love with Eva Gray, but one alcohol-filled night, Robert asked Dr. Caín one wish – for Eva to choose him over Victor. She did, and they got married two months later. Victor was not invited. However, over two decades after, their paths crossed again.
- Victor Kray gets the best friend award.
After 25 years of absence, Robert visits Victor to ask help from the latter. In Robert’s desire to be loved by Eva, he promised his first son to Dr. Caín. In order to avoid this, without Eva’s knowledge, Robert medicated her so she would not get pregnant. This lack of offspring made her depressed, hence Robert’s visit to Victor. As a friend, Victor places Dr. Caín under surveillance and happily reports to Robert the accidental death of the magician. The Fleischmanns had a child, and later on, Victor took care of this child like his own to protect him from the Prince of Mist.
- The book is descriptive.
I think half the book is detailed description of people and events. I can vividly imagine the jardín de estatuas (garden of statues), el barco Orpheus (the ship), the cabin of Roland, and the ultimate showdown between the prince of mist and Roland and Max.
- That black cat is haunting.
The black cat welcomes the Carvers to their new town, and Irina likes it immediately. Unbeknownst to the family, the black cat is the pet of Dr. Caín. It watches the family’s movements and later on causes Irina to fall down the stairs. Lesson learned, never touch or look at black cats.
- Max’s watch is ???.
Max’s pocket watch is unlike any other timepiece. It has one-of-a-kind design and it is beautiful, but towards the end of the book, I found out that it actually belongs to Caín. Whaaaaattt??? Mindblown.
- Dr. Caín = Dr. Lecter?
In Hannibal, Dr. Lecter utters, “Hello, Clarice,” and in El Príncipe de la Niebla whispers, “Hola, Jacob,” and adds, “Ahora sí que vamos a divertirnos” (Now, we are going to have fun) in spine-chilling voice. Given this similarity with one of the most horrifying films, this does not make it my favorite quote. My favorite quote is Dr. Caín’s reply to Alicia when she shouts, “Váyase al infierno,” (Go to hell) and he retorts, “Querida niña, de allí vengo” (My dear girl, that is where I have come from).