Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,  #1)I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time. It was the early summer of 1945, and we walked through the streets of a Barcelona trapped beneath ashen skies as dawn poured over Rambla de Santa Moninca in a wreath of liquid copper. 

"Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Juli├ín Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets--an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love."

I started reading this a couple of years ago, but for whatever reason put it down. I have no idea why, because almost everyone who's read The Shadow of the Wind seems to have loved it, and I was no exception. The book has such a great feel of mystery, romance, and historical detail. It also really captures a love of books that is ingrained in so many people, including me. The writing is a bit odd, but easy to lose yourself in. The Shadow of the Wind isn't a fast read, but it is an intensely absorbing one, and the story itself is fascinating and ingenious. Daniel as a protagonist isn't totally developed, but one gets just enough to understand him a little bit; besides, he's mainly a vehicle. I loved the detail of the pen that Victor Hugo reportedly used to write Les Miserables, I loved the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and I loved this passage: "As I walked in the dark through the tunnels and tunnels of books, I could not help being overcome by a sense of sadness. I couldn't help thinking that if I, by pure chance, had found a whole universe in a single unknown book, buried in that endless necropolis, tens of thousands more would remain unexplored, forgotten forever. I felt myself surrounded by millions of abandoned pages, by worlds and souls without an owner sinking in an ocean of darkness, while the world that throbbed outside the library seemed to be losing its memory, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wise the more it forgot." (page 76). The language was masterful and the idea really striking too. 

There was also a lot of dark humor in The Shadow of the Wind, which I really appreciated. A lot of bad things happen in the story, but Daniel and the other characters still manage to joke, albeit in a very wry manner. Fermin, in particular, likes to make jokes, and rant. He was probably the most annoying character, but still kind of sympathetic. 

I will say that the writing in The Shadow of the Wind is kind of dense; I found myself skimming a little bit. But it's still good in a snide sort of way, and the story is just brilliant, full of all the best things: intrigue, murder, doomed love affairs, and an abiding love of literature that many of the characters share. My favorite characters are the ones we never meet (or don't know we're meeting): Julian Carax and Penelope, the two whose fates Daniel is trying to investigate. I also really liked Bea, Tomas's sister. 

The Shadow of the Wind is one of those books I really enjoyed, but for some reason don't have a whole lot to talk about. Basically, if it sounds interesting, you should pick it up. It's not very suspenseful despite the mystery element, but it is an excellent story, with stories within the story. It also takes place across a long span of time; the book starts when Daniel is ten and first visits the magical Cemetery of Forgotten Books, picking up the Julian Carax title that will forever alter his life. But much of the action takes place six years later, when after the stranger with the burned face shows up, Daniel once again starts to investigate the elusive Julian Carax in earnest. And why is this sinister stranger so bent on destroying all of Carax's books? Daniel is determined to find out, and what he does will lead him into terrible danger. I would definitely recommend The Shadow of the Wind.

487 pages. 


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