2008 Book: 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 on his eleventh birthday 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 volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian 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 one 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 Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly."
"Zafon makes sure there's a robust serving of amor, and enough magic, murder and madness to keep even the most reluctant reader engrossed. Diabolically good."—Elle Magazine
"The yearly "One Book, One Community" program was created as a way to facilitate discussion between NMU and Marquette county readers.
This year's selection, and first translated novel, "The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, is sure to invite a vast array of discussion.
Zafón, who is a bestseller in his native Spain, has spun a tale that spans decades and mixes many genres together to form a story that intrigues those who might not normally favor a mystery. At its heart "Shadow" is a gothic thriller with the spirit of the genre's 19th century roots and the appeal of contemporary fiction.
Normally, I'd shy away from a translated novel-afraid I wouldn't be able to understand some concepts because I was not a native reader. "Shadow" still has the flavor of Spain, but foreign readers can relate and characters aren't lost in translation.
Taking place in 1950's Barcelona, "Shadow" is told through the viewpoint of Daniel Sempere, a widowed bookstore owner's son. At age 10 he finds a mysterious novel and soon becomes obsessed with the book's author Julián Carax. He begins to search for the author's other works and learns that someone calling himself Laín Coubert-named after a character in Carax's last novel-is searching for every copy of Carax's works and burning them. As the years pass, Daniel begins to investigate Carax's past which leads him into direct conflict with Coubert and a deranged police inspector.
The book starts slow, almost at a trickling pace, covering the history of Daniel and his father as well as offering readers a chance to become accustomed to the setting.
One could argue that "Shadow" doesn't even begin until the appearance of Coubert. The story builds momentum via several plot twists and the last 100 pages make slogging through the slower passages worth it.
It's interesting to point out that Zafón mirrors the lives of Daniel and Carax. It's this duality that causes the greatest amount of conflict and sustains the reader through numerous sluggish parts. In learning of Carax's life, Daniel is able to analyze his own choices and their potential outcomes.
What really adds to the overall brilliance is the cast of unique secondary characters. Normally, so many conflicting personalities can bog down the story, but Zafón balances them in a way that denotes his skill as a storyteller.
At a whopping 486 pages, "The Shadow of the Wind" is well worth the time and the $15 needed to tackle it. The book is available at most bookstores in the Marquette area.
—Susan Page, The North Wind (NMU Student Newspaper)