92 of 95 people found the following review helpful
on 30 September 2011
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is literary fiction in the truest sense. It is a novel about books - about one book in particular - and about the power of words to inspire, inflame and ultimately destroy.
10-year-old Daniel Sempere discovers `The Shadow of the Wind' in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and from that moment his life becomes entwined with and begins to follow a similar path to that of the book's author Julian Carax.
The drama is played out amid the horrors and uncertainties of Revolutionary and Post-revolutionary Barcelona, where class is everything and yet where power rests not only with rich families but with anyone sufficiently ambitious and unscrupulous to take full advantage of the vacuums that war has left. Daniel, the novel's narrator, is none of these things. He is just a normal boy caught up in events beyond his understanding and control, and which threaten to overwhelm him.
Amid the realities of time and place, however, Zafon's sense of humour shines through. He is able to see comedy in the grimmest settings and situations. Indeed, there are passages where the line between grim drama, comedy and even farce is finely drawn, as in many scenes featuring the novel's most endearing character, Fermin Romero de Torres, spy turned tramp turned bookshop guru. It is Fermin who shines a light on life's tragedy and shows us the real meaning of loyalty and friendship.
The Shadow of the Wind has its malevolent villain too, one who evokes shades of Hugo's Javert, though without Javert's morality or redeemability. Fumero is corruption and decadence personified, almost to the point of melodrama.
The novel is literary, for sure, but it is also an historical romance with gothic overtones. Julian Carax haunts its pages with an almost but not quite supernatural presence. Yet amid all the horrors and amorality of this war-torn society resides love that defies class and convention.
Daniel, vaguely reminiscent of John Ridd in Lorna Doone, is a self-deprecating hero. He confesses to being a coward yet he seems not enough of a fool to risk his life when the odds are so stacked against him. When it really matters - to the story - he comes through to his own cost.
Translations are tricky. The translator must not only translate the words but must also capture the mood, the emotion, the sense of time and place and the nuances of language of the original, and present them convincingly as the author's own. He or she must remove that `alien' feel and render the work as acceptable to the reader as a work in his or her own language.
In this translation, Lucia Graves manages to do just that. By the end, I felt I knew the Barcelona of the nineteen-thirties, -forties and -fifties; in her prose, I could feel the texture of the snow; I could be disgusted by the fetidness of the abandoned garrets or be awed at the ostentatious luxury of the upper-class villas; I could hear the clanking of trams as they made their way along the Avenido del Tibidabo or the peal of church bells across the city.
The Shadow of the Wind has all the elements of an enduring classic. It is a story that sometimes shocks but often makes you laugh. And just once or twice, it makes you shed a tear or two.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 10 January 2013
I found this book disappointing. Though the evocation of the city, and the insights into Spanish politics were interesting, on the whole it seemed sloppily and speedily written and the translation equally so. There were several instances of characters using slang from the 1980s and 90s when they were talking in a post-war time period, and this sounded really odd. There was also one instance when someone had been beaten up he was recommended to go to hospital 'for a scan' - I don't think scanning technology was invented at that time. Perhaps it was a mistranslation from the Spanish for X-Ray, though I wouldn't have thought X-Rays were easily come by in post war Barcelona hospitals either.
On page 1 the hero's father gives him the dire warning that he must never ever tell anyone about what he is about to see - which is the Cemetery of Forgotten Books - not even to his closest friend. Yet several chapters further on our hero decides to take his girlfriend along on a visit to the Cemetery, without any reference whatsoever to his father's warning, and without any inner should-I-shouldn't I turmoiling. What's more the doorkeeper admits Hero and Current Squeeze without so much as a 'This Place is Supposed to Be a Secret and That's What Your Father Told You' admonishing. Had the author forgotten what he had written on Page 1 or have I missed something vital? If you want magical realism try Isabel Allende's The House of Spirits.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 3 September 2009
Shadow of the Wind is a hauntingly beautifully novel that skilfully interweaves the lives of two generations of well-crafted characters against the backdrop of fear and fragility in post-Franco Barcelona.
At its heart the book is a gripping mystery in which the young protagonist, Daniel Sempere, struggles to unearth events in the past that have a critical bearing on his own future.
The author succeeds magnificently in weaving together the past and present to create an unfolding tapestry of drama and suspense, while the twisting and turning plot keeps the reader off balance, but eager to read just a little more.
The characterisation will have you laughing out loud, crying and slamming your fist into the wall (not recommended). Perhaps the novel's greatest strength is the depth of sympathy you feel for the characters - some of the life stories that unfold, apart from being eminently believable, range from tragically bitter sweet to heart-breaking.
If you want to be moved, taken on a mystery tour and enlightened by an evocative social history, then Shadow of the Wind is a must.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
I am aware that I am in the minority with what I am about to say here, this book has sold over seven million copies worldwide and is the second best selling book in Spanish history, so I could well be wrong, but I really struggled with this. I nearly gave up on it on several occasions, which I never do.
The story, and I can only give a really topline summary here, because it is so complicated, begins as Daniel is taken by his father to a hidden library called 'The Cemetery of Forgotten Books' and asked to choose a book to look after. The Cemetery is run by collectors of rare books and is used as a place to store forgotten books so they will remain in existence. Daniel chooses 'The Shadow of the Wind' by Julian Carax and falls in love with the book.
When he begins to be followed by a disfigured man and other people begin to offer him exorbitant prices for 'The Shadow of the Wind' he realises he hasn't simply picked a book, but become involved in a mystery.
So far so good, an interesting premise and what seems like it could be an exciting read in the vein of Da Vinci Code. It is based on a reliable formula, there is plenty of intrigue and the plot line twists and turns impressively enough. It is however the storyline that makes this a failure for me. There is no doubt that it is an intricate and well-planned plot, but what makes something like Da Vinci Code so emminently readable is the effortless way in which the story is played out. Dan Brown has many failures as an author, but telling a good story is not one of them. Zafon's story unfolds with none of the ease of Brown's books, on the contrary, The Shadow of the Wind is weighed down by it's story.
Characters are introduced only as a way of moving the story on, if Daniel needs to find something out he simply meets someone and they launch into an essay of exposition; often in such detail that I flipped between being overwhelmed, bored and feeling like I was being cheated.
Where it is worst, it is terrible and inept.
While the majority of the text is written from the position of Daniel, the novel suffers from horrible point of view problems. One character, a priest who went to school with Carax, suddenly lapses into third person omniscient for a twenty page information dump of purple prose. Worse still, the vast majority of this information is about things that the priest simply could not of known and at the end you realise that the only point of the whole section was to reveal a plot twist which could have easily been delivered in one sentence.
Worst still, as a reader I felt no empathy for Daniel and for the most part he was only there as a device to move the plot forward, I couldn't have cared less when he was in danger and considered him purely as a conduit for information about Carax.
The main villain of the piece Fumero is little more than a pantomine bad guy, laughing behind his cape and when he begins swearing it seems so incongruous with the rest of the book that it renders him little more than a caricature.
Additionally, the novel dips hugely in the centre- I think a good editor could trim 100 pages from it and make a much faster paced, smoother read and probably tidy up the transitions between past and present. I don't know whether this is the fault of the translation, but there is at least one place the narrative switches from the first person "I" to the second person "you", an error which I found particularly disconcerting.
I was really disapointed that I didn't enjoy The Shadow of the Wind, I didn't expect it to be a masterpiece of literature, but at the very least I wanted a gripping storyline and an enjoyable holiday read. What I got was a flabby overlong storyline pretending to be a novel.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 1 November 2013
I love to read books, have a degree in literature and always have at least two books on the go at once that I am reading. This book is excellently written but was like reading Canterbury Tales in Middle English. It is not for the casual reader. I got a third of the wa y through it and have put it down. It needs time and concentration to get through. It has many layers - stories within stories - that needs total devotion to get the most out of this book. It's no beach read. But if one is looking for a meaty book that will take devotion to get through, this is the one.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2013
My wife loved this book so I decided to read it as we often enjoy the same books. At page 260 I decided to check out the reviews on amazon and now understand better why I don't like it. There are some clumsy translations - not quite colloquial - but that is not my main complaint. The big problem for me is the writing style is the novel equivalent of a groaning buffet - too much that is not different enough to add value resulting in serious risk of indigestion. I have recently enjoyed Moby Dick, Don Quixote and several books by Dickens so I am not fazed by length or detail. The problem with this book is that in too many places there is far too much detail that does nothing but confuse and bore. There are occasional passages that succeed in painting memorable mental images but they are vastly outweighed by over-long passages that appear self-indulgent on the part of the author or lacking in focus.
124 of 141 people found the following review helpful
on 17 January 2005
I have never before said this about a new novel, but I have little doubt that Zafon's 'The Shadow of the Wind' will in time attain classic status. The novel tells about the experiences of a young boy named Daniel living in Barcelona, who one day innocently comes across a book called 'The Shadow of the Wind'. After enjoying the book, he is puzzled as to why nobody, even those knowlegable in literature, seem to know anything about the novel's mysterious author - Julian Carax. It is his curiosity to discover more about the life of Julian that sets him on the path to a thrilling but equally dangerous adventure.
The novel contains twist after twist as the story progresses, and the characters, especially Daniel's hilarious friend Fermin, are all likeable. Highly recommended.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
I didn't find this book to be particularly well written. For example every chapter starts with a paragraph of florid prose about bronze skies, etc. They don't work because they are too obvious. Especially as they are stuck in so gratuitously. Apart from that it is fairly average prose and personally I didn't find the subject matter very interesting. There was little sense of mystery and it was difficult to care much about any of the characters. There was just about enough to keep me reading on holiday because I hadn't take much else to read. I kept thinking that it seemed to be aimed at teenagers, or even children.
Obviously a lot of people have really enjoyed it but caveat emptor. Read a few more of the less complimentary reviews and get a feel for whether you are likely to find the same faults. If you've read it and disagree, don't be too hard on me, everyone is different!
A generous three stars because I finished it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2014
I actually read this book when it first came out in 2005. However, after recently seeing a copy displayed on a shelf in my local bookstore, I felt compelled to write this belated review. I guess I wanted to give the novel the recognition it deserves because this is by far one of the best books I have read in recent years. For sheer escapism this novel delivers in spades. It's got everything: mystery, romance, tragedy, adventure, suspense, and it's all held together with some of the finest writing I've ever come across.
The period is 1945 and the setting is the city of Barcelona. The story begins when 10 year old Daniel is taken by his father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books (a huge secret library containing old, forgotten titles). Daniel is asked to choose just one book from the dusty shelves, one that he must cherish and protect for life. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. Daniel reads the book, is totally captivated by the story and attempts to seek out more books by its author. I'm not one for giving away spoilers - so that's about all of the story I'm willing to divulge to potential readers.
I can only add that if you love reading books but you haven't read The Shadow of the Wind then treat yourself - you will not be disappointed. Find yourself some free quality time, curl up on the sofa and disappear into the world created here by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. As I write this, I'm almost jealous of those who will be turning the pages of this wondrous novel for the very first time. Hmmm, perhaps it's time for me to read it again.....
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 May 2013
" 'This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. 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 these words, the 10 year-old Daniel Mercier is introduced to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books - a library so vast as to have one calling to mind the Minotaur's labyrinth. And it is into this world that Carlos Ruiz Zafon transports his readers in The Shadow of the Wind. Set in post-Civil War Barcelona, this novel follows Daniel Mercier as he attempts to unravel the mysterious life of the author Julian Carax. After selecting one of Carax's works from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, Daniel is visited by an unidentified stranger, a man without a face, on a quest to find and burn all of Carax's novels. After their meeting, Daniel sets out to discover what he can about Carax, thrusting himself into the middle of a story of love, loss, and seemingly boundless intrigue. Underlying this thriller-like plot, the author weaves in the broader narrative of a country working to come to terms with its recent past. As society remains in the grips of ruthless and brutal authority figures, not least the bestial Inspector Fumero, it becomes apparent that redemption and sacrifice are inextricably connected. As Daniel races to save what remains of Carax's work and memory, he is simultaneously confronted with a world brutalised through war. Every character wears the scars of history but, in The Shadow of the Wind, it is through Daniel's uncompromising search for the truth that history and hope are brought into collision.
This book is, quite simply, sublime. Truly epic in scope, The Shadow of the Wind is uncompromising in its attention to detail. Barcelona is brought to the reader with clarity and beauty, as Carlos Ruiz Zafon presents the reader with description that is astonishingly rich in imagery. Even in the simplest of passages, Ruiz Zafon is unfailing in his efforts to transport the reader to his world. And he succeeds with an efficacy unrivalled by any other piece of contemporary fiction that I have read to-date. But The Shadow of the Wind does more than offer the reader an opportunity to explore the Barcelona of our reality. Rather, Ruiz Zafon achieves the truly fantastic feat of creating a Barcelona that is simultaneously familiar and layered with intrigue. This is a Barcelona in which the reality of post-conflict transition and memory is reflected with an acute and painful accuracy, but a Barcelona where an ancient labyrinth of forgotten books remains hidden. This coexistence is created seamlessly, and Ruiz Zafon uses the fantastical nature of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and Daniel's attempts to piece together the mystery of Julian Carax, to highlight his broader social message.
Beyond the gorgeous and seemingly effortless complexity of the plot, it is the characters that catapult this book into the category of masterpiece. Told in first-person narrative, Daniel Mercier is crafted in a manner that makes his voice and thoughts realistic to a fault. The novel follows Daniel through his adolescence but, at no point, succumbs to caricature. Rather, Daniel is witty and acutely insightful. The Shadow of the Wind also offers up what must be one of the greatest anti-heroes ever created in literature. Bringing to mind Falstaff from Shakespeare's Henry IV and V, the character of Fermin Romero de Torres is one of this book's chief highlights. Introduced to the novel as a tramp, Fermin is eventually hired by Daniel's father to work in his bookshop as something of a 'literary detective'. Eloquent, always hilarious, and with a commitment to hyperbole that I've yet to see elsewhere, Fermin is a perfect demonstration of the attention that Ruiz Zafon pays to developing and detailing each of his characters.
The Shadow of the Wind is a beautiful book and one that I cannot recommend highly enough. It offers complete escapism, throwing you into a world so rich in detail that you will be truly reluctant to leave. I think I am safe in saying that this novel is one that shall never find itself battling for a reader in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books.