The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2005)
Translated by Lucia Graves
Historical Fiction, 487 Pages
Penguin Group, New York
Ten years old, and still grieving the tragic loss of his mother six years earlier, Daniel Sempere is led by the hand to a magical place of where “a labyrinth of passageways and crammed bookshelves rose from base to pinnacle like a beehive woven with tunnels, steps, platforms, and bridges that presaged an immense library of seeming impossible geometry.” It is explained to him that the Cemetery “is a place of mystery…a sanctuary” and that “according to tradition, the first time someone visits…he must chose a book…and adopt it, making sure that it will never disappear, that it will always stay alive.”
Daniel, a somber youth, takes his charge seriously. He wanders amidst the cavernous library until he stumbles upon a book he felt destined to find. That very night, he reads his choice, The Shadow of the Wind by an unknown author named Julián Carax. He is so mesmerized by the narrative; he stays up all night to finish the book. Even then, he cannot forget the experience. “My eyes began to close, but I resisted. I did not want to lose the story’s spell or bid farewell to its characters yet.”
As another character explains after reading The Shadow of the Wind, “I had never known the pleasure of reading, of exploring the recesses of the soul, of letting myself be carried away by imagination, beauty, and the mystery of fiction and language.” I would not say that this book necessarily had me “exploring the recesses” of my soul, but at times, I did find myself being carried away by my imagination amongst the beauty and mystery of Mr. Zafón’s fiction.
Intrigued by the book, and hoping there are others, Daniel seeks to find any other works written by Carax. He soon discovers that there are none. Someone has been systematically locating, and then destroying every copy in existence. As Daniel seeks to find out more about Carax, and the novel, he is approached by a mysterious figure; one who smells of burnt paper. Remembering his promise at the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, he refuses, but the die is cast. What follows is a mystery woven through with intrigue and remembrances, which serve to help the reader understand the past behind the present. Of course, all of this leads to a climax, and even though expected, it keeps the reader entranced all the way through.
Mr. Zafón ties all the loose ends neatly, but in a way which leaves the reader feeling bittersweet about the experience. The ending is not a sad one, but nor is it joyous. But this is as it should be. How could we be so moved, if we had not become so involved? And isn’t it true in life, that when we finally have some of the answers, they are not exactly what we had expected?
I could not put this book down. And when I had finished, I found myself going back over certain passages, hoping that perhaps I missed something or some subtle nuance I rushed over in order to get to the next scene. There are those novels which I keep on hand in case I wish to re-read them, but very few in which I do so immediately after finishing them. This is one of those books.