La Sombra del Viento (The Shadow of the Wind) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Published in 2001; English translation in 2004
Lucia Graves Translation
Genre: Mystery, Spanish literature
“I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.”
The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, is a novel about love, mystery, and (most important of all) books. Following Daniel Sempere from his childhood until he is a young adult, the book is about his life in Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War while he searches for the truth about an enigmatic author named Julián Carax. Revelations abound as his life intertwines with that of the tragic author and danger is around every corner when malevolent forces try to bury their secrets.
Daniel’s story begins when he is 10 years old; the son of a bookstore owner, he becomes fascinated with the mysterious author Julián Carax and begins to investigate. He falls in love with Clara; a woman who is 10 years his senior after they become friends, this relationship is doomed to fail by ending in difficult revelations for Daniel. He meets a stranger who is disfigured by horrible burns that tries to buy his copy of The Shadow of the Wind from him while making threats.
It is while visiting Clara that Daniel meets the beggar Fermin Romero de Torres, who Daniel takes in and his father hires to work as a procurer of rare books. As it turns out, Fermin is stalked by the sadistic detective, Fumero, whose place in Carax’s history is later revealed. The mystery of Julián Carax unwinds as Daniel makes connections to his own life, learning that inspector Fumero was actually Julián’s friend as a child and that the two had a falling out. During his investigations, Daniel falls in love with Bea, the younger sister of his best friend, and the two become imperiled as the Gothic tales Carax wrote seem to come to life.
The Shadow of the Wind is a book within a book type of…novel, much like The History of Love. The Shadow of the Wind is written by a mysterious, little-known author whose past is shrouded in enigma and rumor. It is also a contemporary Gothic tale in the sense that it contains stories within stories that tells the history of a haunted manor, the love triangles surrounding Carax, and the drama in Daniel’s own life.
Daniel, as the narrator, uses a lot of big, multi-syllabic words, which adds credibility to him as a reader and someone who works in a book shop. His narration is disrupted, however, by Nuria Monfort, whose manuscript explaining what actually happened to Julián reveals the truth and dispels the misconceived revelations Daniel believed.
The Shadow of the Wind is a unique and interesting reading experience. As strange as it may sound, the book makes the classic Gothic format work within the confines of the early 20th century. One of my favorite books that I read in college was The Monk by Matthew Lewis, which is a Gothic tale, and this novel closely follows the appealing structure. Stories within stories, tragic love, and the threat of one’s mortality closing in are all present in both, yet The Shadow of the Wind is able to make it work in a contemporary setting without seeming antiquated or awkward. This was another book that was difficult to take notes on because of how gripping the story was, which is definitely something I can’t hold against it.
Verdict: 4 hidden books out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Spanish literature, those who enjoy Gothic stories set in the first half of the 20th century, fans of the word “lugubrious”, and those looking for an enjoyable read.
Not recommended for: Those who dislike Spanish literature, people who dislike Gothic stories, Julián Carax and those who loved him, people who don’t like multi-syllabic words, or people who dislike books about books.