I’m fortunate to have read this while staying in Barcelona. Carlos Ruiz Zafón brings the city to life in The Shadow of the Wind, but walking through El Born and the Gothic Quarter, and touching the stone of Montjuic made it so tangible. Of course, this novel is set in the 1940’s and earlier and both Spain and Barcelona have changed.
The story begins with a boy named, Daniel, whose father is an antiquarian bookseller. They visit the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a secret shelter for rare books. Daniel is commanded to choose one book and guard it for his life. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. Daniel loves the book; it engulfs him. He wants to read more novels by Carax, but over the years a mysterious figure has destroyed them. The novel in Daniel’s possession is the only known copy of a Carax work. When word leaks out, what will happen?
The backdrop to this novel is a Barcelona ruled by the Nationalist regime and trying to move on from the Civil War. There’s a film of oppression as members of the police force operate outside the law. One officer in particular, Francisco Fumero, is a straight-up psychopath who flourished during the Civil War by betraying one group after another and torturing whomever got in his way.
Both novels, the one written by Zafón and the one Daniel finds, mirror each other. It’s fun to see the story unfold as the reader knows what happens in Carax’s book will have some kind of equivalent in the real novel. In Carax’s novel there is a character who turns out to be the devil. Daniel believes this character to manifest in real life as the figure who is destroying Carax’s books, burning them to ash. But, does the reader know more than Daniel? Distance can allow a devil to be seen more clearly.
At times, the novel meanders and the strands which hold the plot are tenuous. I skimmed slightly in those spots, but I still enjoyed the meandering pace. Even though we get away from the “real story,” we encounter so many small stories and characters that a richness of place and atmosphere is established.
Some issues that may influence a reader are the main character and drama of the novel. The Shadow of the Wind is a coming of age story. We watch Daniel grow from a boy to a young man. At times his naiveté is frustrating and annoying. It’s well balanced by an older character, Fermin, who cajoles Daniel when he’s being too mopey. Also, the novel can have a melodramatic feeling to it as there are doomed loves and high drama. It works, because ultimately the novel is gothic literature. Doomed romance is part of the genre.
If you’re looking for a fun novel that embraces the wonder of words and stories, check out The Shadow of the Wind.