Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind

16Jul07

Books have a metaphorical life of their own. They speak of another time and another space, forming such mental imageries as if you were being transported through time into that world. What if one day those metaphors were to actually engulf your life such that you dedicate yourself to excavate the bizarre truths and probably save the lives of its characters?

Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind is an extraordinary work of fiction where, what begins as a literary curiosity for young Daniel Sampere in owning the only copy of a rather unheard book, turns into an adventure of life and death, and of saving his loved ones. Carlos’ literary fervor is evident even in the first page of the book, when Daniel’s father introduces him – then only ten years – to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books – a mammoth labyrinthine of crammed and dusty aisles full of centuries-old forgotten books. As is the tradition, Daniel must choose and adopt a book and make it a part of his life.

I was raised among books making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day.

Daniel chooses The Shadow of the Wind, written by an unknown author named Julian Carax and becomes so engrossed with the fascinating novel that he wants to read other works by Carax, only to realize that no other copy of any book by Carax exists anymore. Daniel, with his friend Fermin, tries to get behind the mystery and learns rumors of a dark faceless guy buying Carax’s books and burning them – his final target would be the copy with Daniel. The faceless guy calls himself Lain Coubert – which is the name of the devil in “The Shadow of the Wind”.

A reef of clouds and lightning raced across the skies from the sea… the stranger turned around and walked off towards the docks, a shape melting into the shadows, cocooned in his hollow laughter.

The story is set in the decades during and after the Second World War in Spain, so we are spared of the internet and electronics gadgets in favor of a refreshing little Spanish town where people still walk long distances to work and talk street politics in groups as the sun goes down for the day. Daniel’s attempts to learn about Carax leads him to many encounters. He finds love, estranges his best friend, and discovers startling facts about the past of his neighborhood. Love and its loss are at the roots of everything that happens in the novel; and at one point Daniel realizes his own life roughly resembling that of Carax.

Carlos’ narration is exemplary, to say the least. And Lucia Graves has done a remarkable job of translating the Spanish original into English without losing any of the literary beauty or the Spanish flavor. Bits of subtle humor, vernacular jokes, and minor elements of symbolism and political satire are interspersed all over the novel giving a periodic momentary relief amidst the otherwise gripping pages. At one point he describes a preacher,

Years of teaching had left him with that firm and didactic tone of someone used to being heard, but not certain of being listened to.

The characters are strongly formed and memorable. Even the minor ones have an important role to play at various points in the novel. In a novel of such breadth and subplots, it’s easy for one to get lost in the number of new characters and their complicated relationships. Carlos has managed the multitude characters and their relative significance in the context of the story quite commendably.

The Shadow of the Wind was thoroughly enjoyable. There are no superfluous subplots or irrelevant characters, and the momentum never slows down. And yes, it’s a literary delight!

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4 Responses to “Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind

  1. 1 Jax

    My favourite line : Books are mirrors; you only see in them what you already have inside you.

  2. 2 Amrita

    You have to pick up a copy of Isabel Allende’s My Invented Country when you can Kish. It’s by far one of my favorite books ever

  3. 3 sunitha

    u might like
    A S Byatt-Possession(?)
    W G Sebald-Austerlitz

  4. 4 john bitting

    There is something about novels set in cities that add to the overall interest they generate in the story. I have three favorites: (there are many others) “The Alexandria Quartet”, “Shantaram” and “The Shadow of the Wind”. All three are exceptional, not only because of their settings, but because, they become part of the story. “Shantaram” could not exist without Mumbai. One need only read the opening pages of “Justine” to realize the connection between the story and the city. In the same way “The Shadow of the Wind” would be a dull tale without Barcelona as a stage.
    Granted, all three authors are exceptional. Their style certainly transcends the setting of their novels, but all three novelists used locale to not only enhance their story, they used locale to weave a tapestry where one cannot stand without the other.


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