“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.”
With so much on my plate these days, the last thing I needed was another book to add to my reading list. I was already entrenched in two very good novels but, for what seemed like months on end, I continued to stumble upon praise for Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind and while I happily put it on my gargantuan reading list – even near the top – there was something about that haunting cover that resonated with me and I knew I wouldn’t be able to wait any longer to read it.
Shifting my focus a little, I opened the book to see what lay in store and 3-chapters in I was completely wrapped up in the story of a young boy named Daniel Sempere, who reeling from the loss of his mother some years prior, finds solace in his his books, the loving presence of his father and her precious memory. One early morning, following an episode where Daniel realizes in terror that he can no longer remember his mothers face, Daniel’s father resolves to take him to a strange and secret place known to a precious few as The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a vast place where forgotten tomes are lovingly stored and protected by dedicated individuals. There, Daniel is instructed that, according to tradition, he is to select a book that he will care for and call his own. Filled with wonder, Daniel stalks it’s winding corridors and happens upon a book entitled The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. So begins the boy’s adventure to discover more about the forgotten author that wrote his beloved book, and the mysteries surrounding why it may very well be the sole surviving copy.
As I eluded to, it didn’t take long before I found myself immersed in Daniel’s story what with it’s exciting premise, the scenery that played vividly in my mind (despite an utter unfamiliarity with the region) and words that seemed to drip of an old world flavor — in no small part due to Zafón’s intimate knowledge of his setting as well as Lucia Graves contribution through a beautiful English translation of his prose — it’s the kind of writing that wraps itself around the mind, seamlessly transporting the reader to another time and place until inevitably the real world abruptly calls them back. In that sense the book works magic by bringing this rich world of a bygone Barcelona to life, and so effectively so that while it began to strike me that one might be hard-pressed to actually label the book as a pure “fantasy” (in the sense that on the surface it’s probably more appropriately labeled a “mystery” novel) there was a ghostly undertone to the work that always seemed present and to the point that I was comfortably enjoying it as a member of that genre. But whatever you’d want to call it, it’s a very good book, with characters that you won’t forget. The Sempere’s, Julián Carax, Fermín Romero de Torres, Inspector Fumero, and the mysterious Lain Coubert figure will likely set up shop as residents in the “corner” of my memory that I often reserve for favorite literary characters and they do so because they were so effectively brought to life through their trials, tragedy, failures and successes throughout the book as nothing is easily achieved. And I must admit that I’m a sucker for a good pulp hero and that I had fun placing one of the more prominent figures you’ll encounter in the novel into the kind of setting where a Kent Allard (aka “The Shadow”) might comfortably preside…particularly given the nature of events that unfold in the final chapters of the novel.
If you’ve somehow managed to miss out on The Shadow of the Wind for as long as I did, here’s hoping that you’ll pick it up sooner rather than later and give it a try. The book lover in you will likely appreciate its reverent take on the power of the written word and along with the wonderful journey into mystery, and the novels fully realized characters, that you’ll find a little more about yourself in the process. Books are mirrors indeed. Now, how long do you suspect it’s going to take me to read Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s follow-up to TSOTW, The Angel’s Game?