Carlos Ruiz Zafón completely understands what it means to be seduced by a book--to get lost in a plot and feel overwhelmed by perfectly-formed words and phrases. Perhaps that is what allows him to describe--and replicate--that experience in his own novel, The Shadow of the Wind.
The Shadow of the Wind opens in Barcelona in 1945. Daniel Sempere’s father is about to introduce him to a mysterious and labyrinthine place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. In the Cemetery, the young boy is taught some very important things about the lives of books: “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.”
As a first-time visitor to this unique archive, Daniel is obligated to choose one volume from the endless rows to take with him. That book is destined to become his personal responsibility. He will come to know that text so intimately that it will never be completely forgotten. By selecting a book called The Shadow of the Wind, Daniel makes a choice that will have irrevocable consequences for himself and those around him.
The Shadow of the Wind casts a spell on Daniel, burrowing into his heart, altering his perspective, and fundamentally changing the course of his life. As a consequence of this powerful encounter, he becomes obsessed with finding out more about the book’s author, Julian Carax. It doesn’t take long for Daniel to discover that he holds the last surviving copy of The Shadow of the Wind, and that Carax’s books have been systematically eradicated. What is not immediately obvious is why the disfigured man who smells of burnt paper is so fixated on destroying all of Carax’s work.
As Daniel begins to unravel the mystery of Julian Carax, he is transformed by his quest. He becomes so invested in learning the truth about Carax that he grows to resemble the elusive writer. His mannerisms and style develop in tribute to his literary godfather. However, it seems that Daniel has also inherited Carax’s tragic flaw. As Daniel begins to channel forgotten traits, the tragedies of the past are poised to recur and doom those in the present.
Daniel’s quest grows increasingly complex as the novel progresses. The revelations about Carax and his past are infused with intrigue and suspense. The Shadow of the Wind also features a compelling interplay between personal and political conflicts. Ruiz Zafón portrays Barcelona’s scarred and haunted landscape as a treacherous place for anyone intent on unearthing the past. The trauma of the Spanish Civil War is still a raw wound for many, while Franco’s regime is gathering strength and blanketing the nation with a sense of paranoia and dread. Obviously, it is not an ideal context for Daniel’s relentless curiosity.
Ruiz Zafón’s novel was originally written in Spanish, but the English translation is incredibly well done. The narrative flows naturally, allowing the prose to exude subtle sophistication. The Shadow of the Wind is a fascinating saga, filled with mystery, romance, historical allusions, and philosophical reveries. An unforgettable book.