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The Midnight Palace
By Zafon, Carlos Ruiz
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2011 Zafon, Carlos Ruiz
All right reserved.
I’LL NEVER FORGET the night it snowed over Calcutta. The calendar at St. Patrick’s Orphanage was inching toward the final days of May 1932, leaving behind one of the hottest months ever recorded in the city of palaces.
With each passing day we felt sadder and more fearful of the approaching summer, when we would all turn sixteen, for this would mean our separation and the end of the Chowbar Society, the secret club of seven members that had been our refuge during our years at the orphanage. We had grown up there with no other family than ourselves, with no other memories than the stories we told in the small hours around an open fire in the courtyard of an abandoned mansion—a large, rambling ruin that stood on the corner of Cotton Street and Brabourne Road and which we’d christened the Midnight Palace. At the time, I didn’t know I would never again see the streets of my childhood, the city whose spell has haunted me to this day.
I have never returned to Calcutta, but I have always been true to the promise we all made to ourselves on the banks of the Hooghly River: the promise never to forget what we had witnessed. Time has taught me to treasure the memory of those days and to preserve the letters I received from the accursed city, for they keep the flame of my memories alive. It was through those letters that I found out our palace had been demolished and an office building erected over its ashes; and that Mr. Thomas Carter, the head of St. Patrick’s, had passed away after spending the last years of his life in darkness, following the fire that closed his eyes forever.
As the years went by, I heard about the gradual disappearance of all the sites that had formed the backdrop to our lives. The fury of a city that seemed to be devouring itself and the deceptive passage of time eventually erased all traces of the Chowbar Society and its members, at which point I began to fear that this story might be lost forever for want of a narrator.
The vagaries of fate have chosen me, the person least suited to the task, to tell the tale and unveil the secret that both bonded and separated us so many years ago in the old railway station of Jheeter’s Gate. I would have preferred someone else to have been in charge of rescuing this story, but once again life has taught me that my role is to be a witness, not the leading actor.
All these years I’ve kept the few letters sent to me by Roshan, guarding them closely because they shed light on the fate of each member of our unique society; I’ve read them over and over again, aloud, in the solitude of my study. Perhaps because I somehow felt that I had unwittingly become the repository of everything that had happened to us. Perhaps because I understood that, among that group of seven young people, I was always the most reluctant to take risks, the least daring, and therefore the most likely to survive.
In that spirit, and trusting that my memory won’t betray me, I will try to relive the mysterious and terrible events that took place during those four blazing days in May 1932.
It will not be easy, and I beg my readers to forgive my inadequate words as I attempt to salvage that dark Calcutta summer from the past. I have done my best to reconstruct the truth, to return to those troubled days that would inevitably shape our future. All that is left for me now is to take my leave and allow the facts to speak for themselves.
I’ll never forget the fear on the faces of my friends the night it snowed in Calcutta. But, as Ben used to tell me, the best place to start a story is at the beginning….
Excerpted from The Midnight Palace by Zafon, Carlos Ruiz Copyright © 2011 by Zafon, Carlos Ruiz. Excerpted by permission.
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