The Shadow of the Wind
By: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Barcelona, 1945–Just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes one day to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a book from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the book he selects, a novel called The Shadow of the Wind by one Julián Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Before Daniel knows it, his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness, and doomed love, and before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julián Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that this was one of those books that I never got around to writing a review for but I wished I did, if only to keep track of what my initial thoughts of the book were. I decided to re-read it as a refresher before I venture on to reading The Prisoner of Heaven and just like the first time, I could not put this book down =P Contains spoilers ahead!
Re-reading this book the second time around, I guess what struck me the most was how much this was a coming-of-age story but with a mature twist. It’s hard to describe; maybe it’s the Gothic elements of the novel that heighten the overall atmosphere or it’s the time and place in which the events of the novel take place in but I never quite got the sense that it was a coming-of-age story for Daniel Sempere the first time I read it. Reading it the first time I took it as a massive adventure for Daniel–albeit one with high stakes and a lot of danger involved (well, what adventure doesn’t involve its share of danger?). Re-reading it now though I can see how much of this story is a learning curve for Daniel in a very difficult period in Spanish history, of how actions do have major consequences as well as the discovery of things such as love. I love how Fermin Romero de Torres serves as his confidant and guide as he weaves through things such as socialising with women, dealing with people and so forth while his father is this pillar of strength despite of their differences. I guess the whole coming-of-age story didn’t strike me right away because Daniel isn’t an annoying teenager; maybe it is the world that he lives in but there’s this sadness to him that I guess paints a maturity to him that’s not necessarily always there so to speak.
As before, the Gothic elements of the story enthralled me and really creates a mysterious and ominous environment for the 1950s Barcelona setting. You never know what is going to lurk around the corner. The mystery of who Julian Carax is, why he died and why someone is going around burning all of his books is an interesting and complex one, introducing the reader to a variety of interesting characters from pre-Civil War Spain. You’ve got your share of shady characters and kind ones but you’re never sure who’s telling the truth and who’s not. Like before, I thought it was really cool how some events in Julian Carax’s life mirrors events unfolding in Daniel’s life (or is it the other way around? *insert drumroll here*) and really adds an extra layer of eerieness to the story. The harshness of Franco’s rule makes its presense here and there in the story thanks to Fumero and his colleagues at the police but I’m glad that the mystery elements of the novel remained at the forefront of the story.
What I think was stronger about The Shadow of the Wind than The Angel’s Game (review) other than the fact that some of the eerieness were more explainable was the characters. The characters, both males and females, do not necessarily fall into the character stereotypes of the genre (and if they did, it’s usually because they are only known through hearsay (i.e. Penelope Aldaya) and each had their own unique personality and backstory. Because I re-read The Angel’s Game first, it’s interesting to see Daniel’s father (whose name escapes me right now =/) in his older age and Issac who still holds the fort to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. And of course there’s Fermin Romero de Torres, my favourite character of the book and one of my top favourite characters ever; the things that come out of that man’s mouth is just LOL (for lack of a better way to describe it). I found myself chuckling here and there by his elaborate and often exaggerated (and borderline crude) explanations and expressions. Even when he’s beaten up and in pain he still has something witty to say.
I mentioned this in my review for The Angel’s Game but The Shadow of the Wind is truly a novel about the readers and a love of reading. The Angel’s Game is more about the writers and the complexities and emotions involved in writing but The Shadow of the Wind is really about a love of reading and that amazing feeling you get when you just plunge yourself in a new and imaginative world populated with all sorts of characters and how you never want to leave. You still hear about the writer’s connection to their works, as was evident through Julian Carax’s story, but through Daniel and their bookshop, it’s really about the books and I think that also added a little extra something to the story.
Like the first time I read it, The Shadow of the Wind is an enjoyable read from start to finish. The translation was flawless–it really feels as though Zafon wrote the whole thing in English–and the story was translated effortlessly over. What surprised me was the epilogue of the novel and how this affects The Prisoner of Heaven; the epilogue was set in 1966, ten years after the final events of The Shadow of the Wind but The Prisoner of Heaven is set to start in 1957, just a few years after the end of this novel. But since it’s focusing on Fermin (yay!), I reckon there will be a lot of flashbacks and stories-within-the-story to earlier decades. In any case, The Shadow of the Wind continues to astound me storytelling-wise and it was a joy to finally re-read it again and revisit old friends =)