Recently, I discovered the existence of Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon and his book, The Shadow of the Wind, which was translated into English by Lucia Graves, daughter of the eminent poet Robert Graves. When it comes to Spanish authors, my likely misbegotten beliefs were that they all wrote about Latin America and they all wrote like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose works are as unreadable to me as they are long. This is perhaps why I’ve let very few Spanish-speaking authors on to my bookshelves. With the exception of Luis Alberto Urrea’s Into the Beautiful North, I don’t have any books by Latin American or Spanish authors, and I didn’t even choose to purchase that book. I also didn’t really enjoy it, since it was generally difficult to read, though the story was interesting at times.
The Shadow of the Wind is an exploration of love, regardless of whether that love is familial, romantic, or based in friendship. It is a winding mystery, with edge-of-your-seat action and death. It is historical fiction, revealing the terrors those living in Spain during the Civil War suffered. But more than perhaps anything else, it is a beautiful tribute toward books and those that write/read/sell/protect them. And my goodness, can Zafon describe a scene. And just plain write a sentence. If nothing else about this novel gets you to pick it up, do so just so you can read the beautiful way he writes.
The story is set in Barcelona, after the Civil War that tore through Spain and left wounds that haven’t quite healed. Daniel Sempere is the son of an antique book dealer and has recently lost his mother. To help his son heal, the book dealer takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Because, as those of us who are readers know, books heal all wounds.
To get to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, you must know someone to find its secret location and then you must pass the inspection of the caretaker. When you gain entry for the first time you get to pick a book – or rather, a book will get to pick you – and it becomes your responsibility to love it and to keep it safe. Daniel has the great luck and great misfortune to be chosen by The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax.
So begins Daniel’s journey to discover the author’s origins and to learn why a faceless monster is hunting the author’s complete works just to burn them. Along the way he encounters a cast of beautifully developed characters – some friends, some foes, some somewhere in between – and he learns the meaning of love, loss and friendship.
I loved the writing of this novel – from word choice to plot to pace. So I thought I would share some passages that really stood out to me as truly beautiful and just so perfect.
The wise words of Isaac, the keeper of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books:
“People tend to complicate their lives, as if living weren’t already complicated enough.” – p. 71
And I love this description of what Daniel is thinking, as he walks through the Cemetery of Forgotten Books:
As I walked in the dark through the tunnels and tunnels of books, I could not help being overcome by a sense of sadness. I couldn’t help thinking that if I, by pure chance, had found a whole universe in a single unknown book, buried in that endless necropolis, tens of thousands more would remain unexplored, forgotten forever, I felt myself surrounded by millions of abandoned pages, by worlds and souls without an owner sinking in an ocean of darkness, while the world that throbbed outside the library seemed to be losing its memory, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wiser the more it forgot. – p. 76
Or this description of a sprawling cemetery that Daniel visits:
Even from there, at the foot of the mountain, one could already begin to see the vast city of the dead that scaled the slope to the very top: avenues of tombs, walks lined with gravestones, and alleyways of mausoleums, towers crowned by fiery angels and whole forests of sepulchers that seemed to grow against one another. The city of the dead was a pit of palaces guarded by an army of rotting stone statues sinking into the mud. – p. 350
Or this discussion of the art of reading:
Bea says 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 more scarce by the day. – p. 484
The good news is that once you reach the end of The Shadow of the Wind, Zafon has revisited these characters and this setting in other books. And I am so looking forward to getting my hands on them and devouring them!