86 of 102 people found the following review helpful
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."