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.
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.
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.....
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.
on 28 August 2008
'Ah'thought I when I opened the novel and started reading, secure in the belief that here was a masterpiece since more than 200 people had loved it'this is a book I'm going to enjoy'. Well... 300 pages into it and I went back to Amazon to re check the reviews and discovered what I had missed so far, mainly that more than 40 people had hated it, some going as far as calling it drivel. Well, those reviewers may have been a bit harsh but on the whole I had to agree with them.
It starts very well with the wonderful idea of a cemetery for forgotten books where the visitor on his first visit can choose a book , any book ,that he 'adopts' and becomes responsible for. Young Daniel chooses such a book and discovers a wonderful author into whose world he can lose himself. Determined to find more of the same he is intrigued when he learns that Julian Carax's books have mostly disappeared because a strange figure is roaming the streets of the world offering to buy them and then destroying them. He decides to go on a mission to discover who this Julian is, the life he led , what became of him...
A superb premise, isn't it? Unfortunately, after a few 100 pages we are deep into cheap, hard to credit melodrama, and the book loses nearly all of its appeal. What really did it for me was the manicheism of the characters. They are either angels or demons, hardly any in between and so extreme in their behaviour that they seem to leap out of some rubbish comic strip. What of the horrible inspector Javier Fumero! Why didn't anybody get rid of him? This maniacal police inspector who loves nothing more than to torture, maim and humiliate could easily have been dealt with. So many characters know they are going to die at his hands, so why not kill him first and be executed later if death is what you are going to get anyway? It would have saved many people.And there is too much sex in that novel, I mean too much of the kind that gives you nausea, the husband enjoying his wife while covering her eyes and telling her she is a slut kind of sex. Too much wifebeating as well. I know it's Barcelona in 1945 but why dwell so long on each scene and why assume that Spaniards during Franco's rule beat their wives so much.
As for Fermin, daniel 's great friend, I soon grew tired of his insuferable boasting and bottom pinching. This scrawny carcass of a man pretending to be an expert on things of the heart and pinching the bottoms of all the women he meets.How ridiculous!But the worst for me is still to come. It concerns the scene when poor Don Federico, a harmless cross dresser, is taken by inspector Fumero and jailed with criminals who are going to rape him. The following day, a neighbour, someone who likes Federico and takes pity on him, will inform the neighbourhood of what befell Federico in such vivid details and florid language that you just know that no one who cared for him could tell it this way, as if it were a laughing matter, something that rhetoric could embellish. I was disgusted; And when Fermin is asked to go and enquire after Don Federico's health and offer his support he comes back with news that finish with, quote "...the doctor had diagnosed as having 3 broken ribs....and an uncommonly severe rectal tear" Was this sentence necessary?It made me livid to read such heartless account of the rape of a supposed homosexual.Unless I missed the whole point and should have found it funny? Well I certainly didn't!
on 4 July 2009
Ten year Daniel Sempere is brought by his father to a mystery book depository underneath the streets of Barcelona. Here all books are protected from being forgotten or destroyed. His father asks him to choose one book, and swear to protect it for the rest of his life. He picks up a copy of an unknown book by an unknown writer. He loves the book, and his curiosity leads him to investigate the mysterious life of the author. As he does so, he is drawn into a story of murder, betrayal, passion and revenge.
The Shadow of the Wind is an exciting and imaginative gothic thriller, set immediately after the Spanish Civil War, and written in the style of a children's adventure story. The narrative is fast and physical. The characters are colourful or grotesque. The intricate plot spans three generations. Some well defined themes run through the book: the power of literature, secret worlds, repression and injustice, and the conflict between duty to a family versus passionate impulses. However, the characters are a bit too baroque to be emotionally engaging. Some of the writing is very good, but I thought it fell short of its potential. In particular, I felt Zafon pulled away from giving the book the dark ending it deserves, and the final twists rely upon a rather dishonest deception on the part of the author. A fun adventure with some memorable moments, but which may leave you feeling a little flat.
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.
on 5 January 2005
This is an engrossing work; within the first chapter or two you understand why it has become such a popular novel. It's 1945, it's Barcelona, the Civil War has been lost and Franco's Fascists are firmly in control ... though feeling insecure, because Hitler's Fascism is crumbling and Mussolini's has already been dismantled. A bookseller takes his young son, Daniel, on an adventure ... a visit to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, there to choose one forgotten work and treasure it.
Thus begins the child's fascination with the author of "The Shadow of the Wind", one Julian Carax. The child grows, determined to discover who was this mysterious Carax, why did he flee Barcelona, and why is some mysterious stranger determined to destroy all copies of his books and all trace of his life.
The destruction of an artist's life and works is a potent exploration of censorship and the ability of Franco's followers to fictionalise history. Carlos Ruiz Zafon has life imitating art: Daniel's life seems to parallel Carax's! Is this a case of not learning from history? One of the characters remarks that true evil requires thought and reason, but that most people who do evil are too stupid to intellectualise their behaviour: they act simplistically out of corrupted emotions ... fear, anger, jealousy, guilt, greed.
Fascism, we see, took a hold because not enough people were prepared to act to stop it. Fascism will return if people are too lazy to think, to value, to question. History can repeat itself unless people learn.
But Fascism - which tries to impose a rigid structure on the State and its people - creates intense loneliness. People live in fear of exposure, of seizure by the secret police because they dare to think differently. Daniel's is the loneliness of fear, but it's also the loneliness of teenage love - lusty, erotic, but ultimately fragile and insecure. As a teenager, how do you know you are in love? You weave your dreams and hopes, but lack the experience to compare, to know for sure. You barely understand desire, let alone love. As a teenager, history never repeats itself, because you simply don't yet have enough emotional history!
Haunted, pursued by the mysterious leather-faced man who is out to destroy Carax's work, Daniel is haunted by the women he desires, is haunted by the need to construct a sexual and emotional self beyond the boundaries of childhood. Freedom, here, is hardly political freedom, but rather escape from emotional and sexual censorship. As Daniel strides out into the world, we watch his friendships and family dissolve around him. He has to build adult relationships now, not childish ones.
This is a book which works on so many levels. The focus is primarily on the fantasy world Daniel creates, the fantasy, shadowy world of resistance to Fascism, to censorship and mind control. It is fantasy until it runs smack into reality, the reality of a mature world. Suddenly, we have a murder mystery on our hands. We have political intrigue. We have eroticism.
"The Shadow of the Wind" is an extraordinarily well-written novel. It moves at a gentle, cerebral pace - you barely notice you are on a rollercoaster ride through fantasy. Yet it is a wonderful evocation of Barcelona - not the city of tourist brochure and sunshine, but a dark, mysterious city, lived in by real people enduring real fear and oppression. The fantasy is merely a dark cloak - once you begin to peer under it you feel this is a vivid insight into the subconscious of Spain.
It is a wholly absorbing, and highly unusual, mystery which will engross you. If I have one criticism, I felt the last quarter of the novel is comparatively weak. The ending can appear a little hasty and contrived. Having created a fantasy, turned it into a dark mystery and eroticised the romance, the ending could have been better played and plotted. But overall, a lovely, thoroughly enjoyable novel which will engage you on a number of levels and leave your mind stimulated.
on 19 September 2013
In essence this is a story of obsession and loss framed within the backdrop of the country created by Francisco Franco and the Spanish civil war that lasted between 1936 and 1939. While being strongly character driven this is also an ode to the written word itself and takes every opportunity to glamorize the worship and consumption of literature.
Without a huge amount of fleshing out the characters contained feel just as real as the anguish to which they are repeatedly subjected. They endure a great number of personal woes with very few emotional respites. Despite not being overly complex in the story itself the main flaw for me comes from the fact that the two characters stories that the book closely follows are at times so intertwined that it becomes very difficult to differentiate between the two. Despite this clearly being the intention it makes it hard to enjoy the narrative to its fullest extent.
All in all this is an endless portrait of human pain that rings with such a truth that it is elevated to a level of beauty that only such pessimism can truly portray.
on 1 October 2005
I read this book and would agree that is a page turner but not quite like any I've ever read before. There are so many characters and the story goes around in a very big circle and at the end of the day I feel that there was nothing really that made me care about the characters or their misfortunes - and there are many of them. Not quite sure what all the fuss is about perhaps I've missed something.