69 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enduring Classic
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...
Published on 30 Sep 2011 by A. G. Lockhart
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars rave reviews may deceive you
'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...
Published on 28 Aug 2008 by H. Lacroix
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69 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enduring Classic,
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.
123 of 140 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best novel I have read in years,
The novel contains twist after twist as the story progresses, and the characters, especially Daniel's hilarious friend Fermin, are all likeable. Highly recommended.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly outstanding book,
This review is from: The Shadow Of The Wind (Hardcover)'Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later - no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn to forget - we will return.'
The story begins in the early summer of 1945 in Barcelona, in the wake of the Spanish Civil War, when ten-year-old Daniel Sempere is taken to the ancient, cavernous Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time by his antiquarian bookseller father. From the hundreds of thousands of books contained within the endless corridors of the labyrinthine bibliographic mausoleum, Daniel must choose one book to adopt; he will, he is told, be that book's guardian for the rest of his life. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind by an obscure Spanish novelist called Julián Carax - a choice that will change his life forever.
Captivated by the book, Daniel becomes intrigued by its enigmatic author. Over the years that follow, as he grows from a young boy into an awkward adolescent, he uncovers various clues about Carax and attempts to build a picture of the man. He is told that Carax was killed in Barcelona at the beginning of the civil war and discovers that his is the only surviving copy of The Shadow of the Wind; a sinister, faceless character who smells of burned paper and calls himself Laín Coubert, the name of a character created by Carax, has been going around burning every book by Carax that he can find and Daniel's copy survived only because it had been kept safe in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
With the help of his frequently entertaining sidekick Fermín Romero de Torres (a man with secrets of his own), Daniel begins to piece together the truth about the tragic events of Julián Carax's life, events which appear unnervingly similar to those taking place in his own life. In the process, he stirs up emotions amongst those who once knew Carax and attracts the decidedly dangerous attention of the vengeful and sadistic police inspector (and ex-Francoist torturer and assassin) Francisco Javier Fumero, whose quest for vengeance threatens the lives of Daniel and those close to him.
It's difficult to go into any further detail without giving too much away, so I won't. What I will say is that this is a fabulous, captivating book; a book about books, which is the very best kind of book for a bibliophile like me. There are plot twists and turns aplenty; there are characters to love and hate, and there is tragedy, romance and humour (especially when Fermín Romero de Torres is about). Once I began reading, I really didn't want to stop. This truly is an outstanding book.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars rave reviews may deceive you,
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!
121 of 140 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic fantasy of censorship,
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.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Welcome to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books",
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.
86 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon,
This review is from: The Shadow Of The Wind (Hardcover)"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."
The Shadow of the Wind is a novel about books; about the love of books and of stories, (and is far more accessible than Eco's The Name of the Rose). It is absolutely full of stories itself, with not a single character without one. Not all, of course, are told. For this is the story of Daniel Sempere, a young Spanish boy, growing up in Barcelona just after the end of the Civil War.
One day, ten-year-old is taken by his father, a bookseller, to the "Cemetery Of Forgotten Books", a hidden library where forgotten titles are lovingly preserved on a labyrinth of shelves. Daniel is told that he must keep this place a secret, but that he's allowed to take one book - any book - from the shelves, and protect it for life. He selects "The Shadow of the Wind" by Julian Carax. That night he reads the book and is spellbound from the first page.
Daniel then vows to seek out the rest of Carax's titles, but none can be found. Carax himself also remains a mystery. No one knows anything much about him, save for rumours that he disappeared following a duel in Paris's Pere Lachaise cemetery. Carax's only legacy is a mysterious figure who haunts the streets of Barcelona, who has been tracking down every last one of Carax's novels in order to burn them. Why would anyone want to remove all trace of the author's work? The mysterious man approaches Daniel, who refuses to give him the copy of The Shadow of the Wind - which he then hides back in the Cemetery of Forgotten books. As Daniel grows up he begins to investigate the history of Julian Carax, to discover the truth of his life and death. It's a quest that will bring him, and his friends, into grave danger.
It's a marvellous book, a wonderful, wonderful experience. It resonates with the love of books and of literature. It's also a very hard novel to pin down - it has elements of absolutely everything, a historical adventure story, a crime novel, hints of the supernatural, as well as a very tense thriller and an enchanting love story. It's superb, and every page a joy. There's magic, here, on every page. It's indefinable, but in lies in such lines as this: "He hardly slept, he explained, and would set himself up in the sitting room on a folding bed lent to him by his neighbour, Monsieur Darcieu - an old conjuror who read young ladies' palms in exchange for a kiss."
You can tell from even a brief synopsis that this is just a special, unique novel. It's full of mystery, and enchanting characters. The descriptions are wonderful, lush and delicious - although the author does tend to toss similes around like loose change, and they don't always correspond to one another. The language may also be too flamboyant for some, but in actual fact it just highlights where this novel springs from: a love of words and language. It's incredibly vivid (possibly due to the author's obsessions with colours), and pulses with life. Lucia Graves, the translator (very aptly, the daughter of Robert Graves), has done a very good job indeed. As something is always "lost in translation", this novel must be even better in the original Spanish, which I think probably has a lot more synonyms for "poison" and "poisonous" than does English, so many times do those two words crop up.
It's all excellent. As you can see, it's not flawless, but it is just a pure pleasure to read, to be immersed in a story which itself sings the joys of stories. It also says something rather interesting about stories themselves: we the lives of Daniel and Julian mirror each other eerily across decades we get a sense that every story repeats itself in history at some time or another. Threads dance and connect them both across the years. Joy and misery (there's quite a great deal of lost love and loneliness, this novel being also a plea against both those things) spiral through the whole thing, and the end is wonderfully satisfying. I absolutely loved this book, as you can tell. Right now, I think the best novels around are coming out of Europe: the works of Henning Mankell, Donna Leon, Jose Carlos Somoza, Arnaldur Indridason, and Karin Fossum, for example. And Ruiz Zafon is now another name to add to that list.
It's not a book without humour and wit, either, and there are some brilliant one-liners. A visit to a brothel is described thus: "A lineup of ladies with their virtue for rent - and a lot of mileage on the clock - greeted us with smiles that would only have excited a student of dentistry."
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I really wanted to like this book- I didn't.,
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.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read, but fades,
So we have a mystery, a love story (actually, several), and quite a few other genre elements as well. It is an historical novel whose chronological setting runs from early in the 20th Century to 1955. It is also a gothic novel: the dark, disfigured Laín Coubert obsessively seeking out all of Carax's books to burn them; rich families with dreaded secrets destroyed by them; love that rules lives and mutilates its victims; resentment grown to driving hatred running through the whole.
There is also one very memorable character, Fermín Romero de Torres, who is the one that gives the key to the tone of the novel. He is a filthy, almost skeletal beggar, with horrendous scars all over his back, taken up by the narrator and his father to work in their bookshop. He is a great success, hunting down books in hours. He's also read everything, has the experience of 10 men, and is witty, to boot. Some examples:
As a child, I felt the call of poetry and wanted to be a Sophocles or a Virgil, because tragedy and dead languages give me goose pimples.
Like the good ape he is, man is a social animal, characterised by cronyism, nepotism, corruption and gossip. That's the intrinsic blueprint for our "ethical behaviour". It's pure biology.
- This business of courtship is like a tango: absurd and pure embellishment. But you're the man and you must take the lead.
- The lead? Me?
- What do you expect. One has to pay some price for being able to piss standing up.
Despite all these pleasures, mine diminished the closer I got to the end. One of the main reasons for this was the abuse of point of view. Much of the narration depends on testimony, either oral or written. In both, the surrogate narrators know too much, see too far and too deeply into the hearts and minds of others. This never happens with the main narrator, Daniel; only with his witnesses. It is especially flagrant in Nuria's long letter that basically resolves all the mysteries. She describes her husband's meeting with Carax (at which she was not present) in exactly the same way as she does her own experiences.
I think the gothic aspects started to wear on me, as well. The friendship that knows no bounds; self-sacrifice to left and right; the love that cannot die; irredeemable, implacable hatred. It's rather tiring after a while. By the end, I didn't really care that much what happened. Nevertheless, a good read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Out of the shadows,
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.
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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Hardcover - Jan 2005)
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