Book review: The Shadow of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Having just been to Barcelona in February and still reeling under the effects of this awesome city, the first thing I did on returning was to check out fiction novels based in Barcelona. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon came up on every single list that I searched through. I read the gist of the story and it had me hooked.

The story revolves around a boy Daniel Sempere, who selects this book called ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ from a store, mysteriously called, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books (there actually was a real-life library in Barcelona, that inspired this place in the book). The book that Daniel picks up is by this author Julian Carax — a Barcelona born writer who moved to Paris and then disappeared — assumed to be dead. Daniel soon realises that he is the only person on the planet with the last copy of the book — all other copies burnt by a mysterious figure named after a character in the book itself.

The book (not the one that Daniel picks, but the actual book) then takes us across Daniel’s life — which eerily mimics the life-story of the writer of that fateful book (the book that Daniel picks up), Julian Carax himself. How these divergent stories meet at some point is what makes the journey through the book interesting.

Set in the post-war Spain, the book alludes a lot to the Spanish Civil War which saw a lot of people being killed all over Spain in general and Barcelona in particular. A lot of the characters in the book have lived through the war and are surviving in this Franco-ruled Spain. The arch nemesis of the story — a character called Fumero is a wildcard revolutionary-turned-corrupt-cop and you never know what he will do next. Daniel’s friend Fermin Romero des Torres provides some comic relief throughout the narrative. The female characters in the book — Clara Barcelo, Beatriz Aguilar, Nuria Monfort, Penelope Aldaya — are bundles of intrigues themselves.

What I loved about the book was the way Zafon makes you draw parallels between the present and what has happened in the past. Yes, Zafon has neatly demarcated Daniel’s era from Julian’s era, and you know where he does that. But still, the beauty lies when you try to connect the dots before the fact.

Reason #2 is that the book maintains all the elements of noir, gothic mystery, like one of those classic gothic mystery novels. Although the books is set in 1940s Barcelona, the way Zafon has described the places, the characters, the mysterious appearances/disappearances of characters; it could be any era from couple of centuries ago.

Reason #3 is that this is a ‘Book within a Book’ genre at its best. Some of the reflections on books and reading and writing are things you would have bookmarks made out of.

Here’s a sampling of a few of those quotes:
“Books are mirrors — you only see in them what you already have inside you.”
“A story is a letter that the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise.”
“In the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here has been somebody’s best friend”
“Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.”
“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.”
….and so many more….

Reason #4 for loving this book is of course the fact that it has been set in Barcelona. Having walked for hours in the Gothic Quarter, it was refreshing to hear about these similar places in a book. Also, one comes across a lot of new places, which will surely make you want to do a The Shadow of the Wind walking tour, next time you are in Barcelona.

If you like mysteries — just go ahead and get this book. You will not be disappointed.

PS: It is just surprising that there is no movie adaptation of this book. In a way that is good, but I would certainly love to see it being adapted as a TV mini-series at least. Movie adaptation will certainly cut out a lot of lovely aspects of the book.

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