In 1945, the aftermath of the Spanish Civil war, Daniel Sempere was 10, when his father led him to a hidden heart of the old city of Barcelona to the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’. It is a labyrinthine library of obscure and forgotten titles. Daniel is allowed to choose one book and from it he pulled out “The Shadow of the Wind” by Julián Carax.
As he grows up, several people seem inordinately interested in his find. What begins as a case of literary curiosity turns into a race to find out the truth behind the life and death of Julián Carax. With the help of Fermín Romero, Daniel tracked down one person after another who knew and loved Carax one way or another. As the mysteries unravel involving San Gabriel’s boy school, a decrepit house called “Angel of the mist”, a faceless stranger and Daniel’s personal love life, Daniel is caught up in a web of deceit and danger. Daniel’s life becomes intertwine with Carax’s through fate and destiny, that may cause Daniel to lose his life…………..
I was looking for authors with a last name that begins with “Z”. Zweig? Zolá? And I decided on Záfon. I was drawn because of the atmospheric description of Barcelona and the obsession about books as a discussion topic. It is a very hard book for me to provide a spot-on review because there is so much going on in this book. It is a Gothic melodrama, coming-of-age story, ghost story, historical thriller, mini crime-fiction all roll into one. It is about a love so deep and a hatred so strong that could create a monster out of a decent human being. A novel where even the subplots have subplots. It has the effect of peeling the layers of onion and then have the layers grow back. It is consistently suspenseful.
The varied cast of memorable characters lend colours into the story, every character was given sufficient air-time to allow the reader a glimpse into their private lives (which occasionally one may find it’s tedious when you just want to get on with the unravelling of the mysteries):
- Isaac Monfort – The Guardian of the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten books’ with his estranged daughter, Nuria.
- Gustavo Barcelo – Daniel’s father friends who evaluates the copy of the Shadow of the Wind, whose blind niece, Clara, whom Daniel is infatuated with.
- Fermín Romero de Torres – Daniel’s partner in crime in hunting down the story. A tramp, an ex-espionage, hunted by the notorious police officer, Francisco Javier Fumero.
- Bernarda – Daniel’s housekeeper.
- Thomas Aguilar and sister, Beatriz – Daniel’s best friend.
- Miquel Moliner, Jorge Aldaya, and sister Penelope – friends of Carax.
I suppose it takes a Spanish to capture the intensity of emotions of a group of Irrepressible Spanish take on obsession, revenge and redemption; no dictator ship (in the form of war, police or parental protection) can keep them down of their love and passions. Zafon painted a milieu so vivid that I have several favourite scenes in my head, both heart warming, such as when Femin describes the smell and remembrance of mother, in every occasion Femin proffers the Sugus sweets (one of my childhood brand of sweets); Daniel’s sadness and disappointment when no one came to his 16th birthday party, but as consolation Daniel received a gift from his father, a Victor Hugo’s Montblanc; the chilling discovery of what’s in the haunted house; the years of Nuria nursing her beloved; Combining the scary, the grotesque and the erotic; this book is a chilling and pulsating read.
My favourite quotes:
On love and loss:
‘Someone said that the moment you stop to think about whether you love someone, you’ve already stopped loving that person forever’.
I told her how, until that moment, I had not understood that this was a story about lonely people, about absence and loss, and that was why I had taken refuge in it until it became confused with my own life, like someone who has escaped into the pages of a novel because those whom he needs to love seem nothing more than ghosts inhabiting the mind of a stranger.
Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.
Our book sales are lessen every year. Bea said that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming scarce by the day.
Look, Daniel. Destiny is usually just around the corner. Like a thief, a hooker, or a lottery vendor: its three most common personifications. But what destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it yourself.
Nothing feeds forgetfulness better than war, Daniel. We all remain silent and they try to convince us that we’ve seen, what we’ve done, and what we’ve learned about ourselves and about others, is an illusion, a nightmare that will pass. Wars have no memory, and nobody has the courage to understand them until there are no voices left to tell what really happened, until the moments comes when we no longer recognise them and they return, with another face and another name, to devour everything they left behind.
One gorgeous read. I felt invested in the characters so much so that I will most probably read the next instalment, just to find out what happen to them. If there is only one complaint, it is that at times it can seem repetitive, narrating facts that you already knew and also the annoying time leaps at the end of the book; 1955…. 1956 ….. 1966 …. and then a little passage before the book ends its reluctant death. 🙂
I am reading this for A to Z and Global Reading Challenges.
Paperback. Publisher: Phoenix 2004, originally published in Spanish in 2002; Length: 403 pages; Setting: Post civil war Spain. Source: My Colleague A. Creed. Finished reading at: 31 March 2010
About the Writer:
Carlos was born in Barcelona in 1864 and is the award-winning of 5 books. His novels have been translated into 26 languages and have sold 2 million copes around the world. This book, La sombra del viento, is translated from Spainish by Lucia Graves. Ruiz Zafón’s eagerly awaited second novel, a prequel to the The Shadow of the Wind, has been acquired by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. The English edition was published in hardback on June 16, 2009. Titled The Angel’s Game, it also is set in Barcelona, but during the 1920s and 1930s.