Spaniard Ruiz’s English-language debut, winner of this year’s International Prize, reveals the nightmare world of a young Spanish widow whose dreams spring to life and drive her to the verge of insanity.
Seville librarian Alicia was a happy, hopeful young wife and mother not so long ago, but her husband Pablo and her little girl Rosita were killed in a car crash and Alicia is now on her own. Still in a state of shock months after the accident, Alicia sleepwalks through her days, maintaining the appearance of normal life at work and with her friends, but she finds that the nighttime world of her dreams has taken on more importance to her than most of what transpires while she’s awake. Each night, with increasing clarity, Alicia dreams of a strange and ancient city where she’s surrounded by angels and accosted by a menacing bald man with a moustache. Alicia describes these nightmares to her mother-in-law Luisa, a psychiatrist who tries to help Alicia manage her grief. Luisa prescribes various medications—at progressively high doses—but the dreams continue. In fact, they come to life. One day Alicia discovers a 17th-century engraving that’s a perfect illustration of the city of her dreams. She takes it to her brother-in-law Esteban, a Latin teacher, who translates the inscription (which describes the city as New Babel, earthly home of the devil) and agrees to help her find the book that it came from. A Name of the Rose–like hunt commences as Esteban and Alicia comb through libraries, museums, churches, and antiques shops on the trail of what looks more and more like a Satanic conspiracy. Is Alicia simply distraught? Or are her dreams actually revealing a diabolical cult to her (either as a warning or a trap)? After all, anyone can become paranoid if she’s hunted long enough.
Chilling, eerie, and sophisticated: a marvelously constructed tale that keeps you guessing until the very end (which does not disappoint).