In keeping with the theme of this blog, I was recently recommended a novel which gets to the very heart about what it means to come into possession of rare title; a novel which best captures that magical journey I’d first envisaged of entering a secret underground lair filled with lost and forgotten material. I just had to write a review.
The Shadow of the Wind is a touching rites of passage story about growing up, falling love, and becoming a man. Set in post-war Barcelona, the novel focuses on a young boy’s chance discovery of a strange old book with an unknown author and mysterious past. Determined to trace the novels origin, he embarks on a journey through a dark, subterranean world of authorship where he encounters police corruption, drama, tragedy and even the devil himself.
The said boy in this tale is Daniel Sempere, son to the owner of small, family owned bookshop and an avid lover of the printed word. One day he is taken to the cemetery of forgotten books- to a child’s eyes, “a labyrinth of passageways and crammed bookshelves… woven with tunnels, steps, platforms and bridges that presaged an immense library of seemingly to impossible geometry” (3). This a sacred sanctuary of literature, a place where ancient and lost works are made immortal as libraries close down and bookshops disappear. Like all sacred spaces, it follows a strict ritualistic code- visitors must adopt a book and make a solemn promise to guard it with their life. Daniel’s title of choice is, The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, a mysterious wine coloured, leather bound book with gold lettering which gleams from atop a shelf as if divine and quickly attracts his interest. “Adopting” the novel as he does, Daniel ultimately takes responsibility for it’s author past- the family ties, friends, foes, lovers, not to mention the controversy. But tracing the history of Carax is no easy task, and calls up a detective style investigation along a city of shadows. Along the way Daniel meets with all range of shady characters and dark forces: Inspector Fumero- a murderous detective and previous school friend of Carax, who will hesitate at nothing to keep the author’s name dead and buried; Nuria Montfort, an intelligent femme fatale employed at the publishing house where Julian’s books were published, and alleged at having had an affair with the very author himself; and Lain Coubert, an demoniac apparition-like figure on a quest to burn all of Carax’s works.
Assisting Daniel in his investigation Fermin De Torres- an outcasted beggar with an immense spirit who is taken in by Daniel and his father off the street and offered a job in the bookshop. To Daniel’s naivety he lends intuition, logic, reasoning and beguiling charm which turns red herrings into new lines of enquiry. As their investigation deepens, they unearth a love story of the most epic kind- the coming together of Julian Carax and Penelope Aldaya, as two young, irrational soul mates caught up in a surreptitious relationship fraught with jealousy, murder and familial torment. Relating this relationship to his own with Beatriz Aguliar (sister to his best friend Thomas Aguilar), Daniel learns first hand the consequences of adolesecent passion and the sacrifices that have to be made. It thus follows that protagonist and author become closely intertwined as the former tracks the latter: both share an absent mother figure (Daniel from a young age; Julian in his later years), both are brave, determined and stubborn, both are of humble upbringing with interests beyond their class and social standing, and both fall victim to the wrath of Fumero’s iron boot.
Setting the novel out in this way allows author Carlos Ruiz Zafon to teach us that life is cyclical, that unrelated destinies can arrive at the same fate despite the distance between them. To this effect, Daniel and Carax eventually meet under the most poignant of circumstances and in each other find a new lease of life to move ahead with: Julian, with a restored passion for writing; Daniel, with ambitions of getting married and having a family of his own. As the novel comes full circle it finishes exactly as it began- father and son hand in hand, embarking on a trip to the cemetery of forgotten books, only this time it’s Daniel playing the devoted father.
Contextually, The Shadow of the Wind offers a history lesson into the Spanish civil war. Through Inspecto Fumero we learn about acts of murder and torture which were carried out in Barcelona during the time under Franco’s dictatorship, while the movement of the novel towards a happy ending could perhaps be read as the triumph of democracy following Franco’s death in 1975. To date the novel is said to have sold over 15 million copies worldwide, achieving great success in the UK and Mainland Europe. Following in the series is The Angels Game-essentially the prequel to The Shadow of the Wind, set in 1920’s/ 1930’s Barcelona and following the journey of a young writer through the same streets which Daniel would later manifest.
Linguistically, The Shadow of the Wind is beautifully written. Its long flowing sentences and use of pathetic fallacy throughout create a potent sense of mood and character development which makes for easy reading. Thematically, it tackles father- son relationships like no other book I’ve read- never did I think I’d be brought to tears by a father buying a son a fountain pen, but in this book such small gestures hold great weight. As far as good reads go, The Shadow of the Wind is definitely a rare title and worth checking out if get the chance!
Further information on the author and his works can be found at, www.carlosruizzafon.co.uk