Carlos Ruiz Zafón – The Shadow of the Wind

27Apr09


This is a well-written page turner, with all the elements of a good story: romance, history, friendship, murder, revenge, redemption, bad cop, good beggar, a young impressionable protagonist, and a history that seems to be re-living itself, with different actors… 

Set in a desolate Barcelona in 1945, around the time of the Spanish Civil War, this book centers around Daniel, who is all of ten years, when the book starts. The opening scene is enchanting, and draws the reader immediately into the convoluted story, encouraging them to turn the page and discover the significance of a decision made by a child in a few minutes – a decision that defines his childhood, and adolescence. 

When David wakes up one morning, realizing he cannot recall his dead mother’s face, his father (a bookseller), after comforting him, takes him to the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’, a labyrinth of books that don’t have owners, books that are forgotten in the depths of time, and just sit there, waiting to be picked up by someone like Daniel, i.e. someone who is given permission to take one book from there, conditional on the person promising to adopt the book, and not allow it to disappear as so many other books have. It’s the beauty of this opening chapter that enthralls me. Any book lover would give anything to visit such a place. Does such a place even exist? Sorry to digress, but I can almost imagine this beautiful santuary of sorts, and losing myself within. 

Anyway, Daniel chooses a book called ‘The Shadow of the Wind’, by an obscure author, Julian Carax, because, in his words, the book had been waiting for him. David reads the book that very night, and is completely captivated by the story, so much so that he’s keen to find out more about Carax, and read more of his works. On his father’s advice, Daniel speaks to Barcelo, a book-trader, to find out more about Carax. Initially Barcelo attempts to purchase the book from him for a hefty price, for it’s a rare piece. However, Daniel flat out refuses, and continues his quest to find either more books by this author, or more about the author himself. What he doesn’t know at the time is, there is someone out there, looking for the same books. Not to read them, not to sell them, but to burn them. 

As the book progresses, Daniel follows many leads, speaks to many people, and tries to piece together the full story of Carax’s enigmatic life. He doesn’t realize the gravity of his search, until someone who seems closely involved is murdered. The suspect: his best friend, a beggar, Fermin. Of course, if there’s a good tramp, there’s bound to be a bad cop, and this is where Fumero comes in – someone whose ruthless reputation precedes him. If he’s out to get you, he will get you – that’s the word. And he seems to passionately hate Carax – Why? 

The story has plenty of twists and turns. It’s not straightforward, but it’s gripping. You want to know what happened next. You want to know why someone wants to burn Carax’s books. You want to know more about Fumero and Fermin. You want to know about how the random people that keep cropping up fit together, in the grand scheme of things. And the answers you end up getting are more and more surprising.

And while you’re getting more and more engrossed in the mystery, you see Daniel growing up – from being a stubborn defiant child, smitten by the blind niece of Barcelo, to a young man who follows what he believes he has to, and ends up falling in love with his best friend’s sister (from school). While there are times you think he’s a coward, there are other times you have to admire him, for all he’s trying to do. And then there are moments when you just have to smile at the conversations between Fermin and Daniel. The one that sticks to mind is, Daniel feels guilty about lying to his father while he follows the Carax mystery. To which Fermin replies, along the lines, the relationship between father and son is based on lies: tooth fairies, Santa Claus etc.

In fact, Fermin is that character that really stands out, for me. A man who seems politically incorrect at many a level, a devoted friend, and someone who can be sensitive and gentle when the need arises. Oh, and he’s a man who always sticks by his promises – even if it means getting an old man a hooker! Fermin takes on the role of a friend and guardian to Daniel, while simultaneously helping out at the bookshop, and being a godsend for the protagonist and his father. While there are scars from his past, which he occasionally succumbs to; all in all, he seems to be someone who wants to enjoy life while doing the right thing – and not in a preachy goody-two-shoes way! Fermin’s witty, quick and the dialog between him and some of the other characters make the book a considerably lighter and a tad more humorous read.

It’s a relatively ‘chunky’ book, at about 510 pages, paperback. But give it a go – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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One Response to “Carlos Ruiz Zafón – The Shadow of the Wind”

  1. This book is on my shelf. The length is a bit daunting, but I hope to read it soon.


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