Title & Author: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón [translated from original Spanish by Lucia Graves]
Genres: Contemporary Literature, Spanish Literature, Suspense
Format chosen: Kindle e-book
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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 Julián 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.
About a month ago, I posted that I was looking for a book that had originally been written in a language other than English for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. A huge thanks to reader and fellow blogger Richard for recommending The Shadow of the Wind to me. (Here’s a link to his review in case you’re want another opinion.) It only took me a few days to actually read the book, I’m just behind on posting the review. But man, what an introduction to world literature!
I know that I have this whole “verdict” section below but I have to say: TSotW is one of the most well-written books I’ve ever read. The language is gorgeous and the story keeps you guessing. The storytelling is so vivid you feel as though you have been plunked down onto the streets of Barcelona to witness the story unfold in person.
TSofW is about a boy named Daniel. When he’s 10, Daniel wakes up screaming one morning because he can’t remember his mother’s face. [His mother died when he was four.] Daniel’s father comforts him and decides to show him something secret. He tells Daniel to get dressed; they go out into the night so that Daniel’s father can introduce him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Before entering the Cemetery, Daniel’s father makes him promise that he not tell anyone about the place.
The Cemetery of Forgotten Books sounds like heaven to me: a vast library of books that have been carefully preserved by a chosen few. A description from Daniel’s father:
“‘This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.'”
I read that and my jaw dropped because it’s the most eloquent description of books and reading that I’ve ever encountered. Even better than just that description is the fact that the first time a new member visits the Cemetery he or she must choose a book to adopt, in order to “[make] sure that it will never disappear, that it will always stay alive.” The books might be forgotten right now but the idea is that each member will ensure that one book is never truly lost. Daniel looks around carefully and ultimately finds a book that stands out to him: The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. After Daniel and his father leave, Daniel goes home and promptly reads the book cover to cover.
After finishing Carax’s novel, Daniel seeks out additional works by the author. Despite being very well written, Carax’s books are quite rare and the author is said to have died in a duel on his wedding day. On top of that, someone has been going around to any bookstore, library, or other location with copies of Carax’s works and burning them. This someone goes by the name of Laín Coubert, a character from Carax’s book The Shadow of the Wind–who also happens to be the devil. It’s possible that the only copy of The Shadow of the Wind is the one that Daniel adopted from the Cemetery.
The more Daniel uncovers about Carax, the more he longs to know Carax’s full life story–why he left Barcelona, how he died, and who killed him. By digging in to the mystery, Daniel sets in motion a chain of events from people who had been in the deceased-Carax’s life that he could never have predicted. While I did ultimately uncover who Coubert was prior to the end of the book, the reasoning behind the book burning was a complete mystery.
TSotW is a unique book with elements of young love, mystery, suspense–there were a few times I was definitely creeped out. I also enjoyed the Inception-style “book within a book” element of this story, and how Daniel’s life mirrors Julián’s in many ways. It’s beautifully written and well worth the read. Zafón also wrote a prequel (The Angel’s Game) and a sequel (The Prisoner of Heaven) in case you like this one. I imagine I will read them in the near future.
Verdict: This is one of the best books I’ve ever read and definitely the high point on my literary journey so far this year. TSotW feels like a book that’s been around for a long time, a classic you should have read in school perhaps, though it was only released about 10 years ago. It’s timeless and beautiful, definitely worth a re-read in a year or two.
Recommended for: anyone looking for a book originally written in a language other than English in order to check something off their reading challenge list. Or, you know…anybody. If you enjoy literary fiction and/or suspense, I don’t think you would go wrong to try this one out.
Current price: about $8.43 (Kindle), $9.81 (paperback), or $15.94 (hardcover) on Amazon.