The Shadow of the Wind

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The first time I read this book (in 2007) I consumed it. It’s almost 500 pages, but I couldn’t put it down. This time I took it slow. I savored every line and absorbed each character. I paid closer attention and let the mystery enfold me and it was definitely a different experience. It was wonderful.

Set in Barcelona in 1945, the book begins as a coming-of-age tale, but quickly becomes more complicated than that. The story is told from the point-of-view of Daniel Sempere starting when he’s only 10 years old. His father takes him to a secret place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where Daniel finds a book by the author Julián Carax. The rest of the story follows Daniel journey to discover what happened to Carax and the rest of his work.

The Shadow of the Wind is reminiscent of old gothic novels. The story is a heady mixture of mystery and romance, political tyrants and broken hearts. I had forgotten how enthralling the mystery is. The twists and turns and unexpected connections Daniel makes as he walks the alleys of Barcelona haunt me even though I’ve returned the novel to my bookshelf.

Zafon’s supporting cast of characters is one of the best parts of the book. There’s Daniel’s father, a quiet man with a kind heart who loves his son. Chief Inspector Francisco Javier Fumero is one of the most vicious baddies in literature; he’s black to the core of his being. Then we have Miquel, Julian’s clever best friend and Nuria Monfort a mysterious woman who seems to know more about Julian than she’s willing to say. Finally there’s Fermin Romero de Torres, perhaps my favorite person in the book. He’s a homeless beggar who has been broken by his past, but still has a future ahead of him if someone is willing to give him a chance. He has a lust for life that is both entertaining and inspiring.


One of the things I love about this book is the way Daniel’s life mirrors Julian’s. They both fall in love: Daniel with Bea, the sister of his best friend and Julian with Penelope, the daughter of Don Ricardo Aldaya who has become Julian’s patron of sorts. They both have obstacles to that love: Bea is engaged to another man and the Don doesn’t want Julian to be with Penelope (though Julian doesn’t know why).

Soon Julian begins to see Daniel as the only way to redeem himself. He feels that his life and his love have been wasted, but if Daniel can be happy then it will all balance out. At the same time, Daniel is consumed with solving the mystery of Julian’s life and can’t really move forward with his own until he has done that.


About halfway through the book I thought maybe I had overestimated my love for it. What if it wasn’t as good as I remembered? What if it didn’t live up to my expectations? Luckily any doubts that I completely love it were dispelled when I reached the end. It’s just as brilliant as I remembered and remains one of my favorites. It’s not just an enthralling story or the captivating characters. Those are both great things, but the main thing I love is the writing. Zafon has a masterful way of turning everything to poetry. He takes my breath away with his descriptions and his love of reading emanates from every page.

BOTTOM LINE: Read it, just read it. If you love gothic mysteries (like Rebecca) or wonderful characters or good writing, there’s something for everyone and you should read this book! 

“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”

“Presents are made for the pleasure of who gives them, not for the merits of who receives them.”

“I had never known the pleasure of reading, exploring the recesses if the soul, letting myself be carried away by imagination, beauty and the mystery of fiction and language.”

“Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later – no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget – we will return.”

“Making money isn’t hard in itself; what’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one’s life to.”

“War has no memory, and nobody has the courage to understand them until there are no voices left to tell what happened.”

p.s. Anyone curious about Zafon’s work should definitely start here. If you read this one and love it, I’d recommend reading The Angel’s Game next. It’s loosely connected to this book, but takes place a couple decades earlier in Barcelona. Also, he has a new book, The Prisoner of Heaven, coming out in July! I can’t wait.

I love this book so much I'm giving away a copy.

To enter, just tell me one of your all-time favorite books in the comments and leave your email address. I'll pick a winner by the end of the week and I'll email that person and update this post with the winner's name. Then I'll mail them the book, sorry US mailing addresses only this time.


Brona said...

My bookclub read this about 5 years ago and it divided the group. Unfortunately I was one of the ones who didn't like it and didn't finish it, but I was going though a particularly emotional time and was finding it hard to concentrate on anything.

I've often wondered if I should attempt it again now that I'm in a much calmer state of being esp as your review ticked all the boxes of books I like to read.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

With this one Melissa, we'll have to agree on disagreeing :) I read it pre-blogging, so didn't write a review, but it was one of my biggest literary disappointments of that year (and possibly ever).

Steph from "Steph and Tony Investigate" wrote a brilliant review othat said pretty much what I thought about it.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I loved this book with all my heart. And OMG the AUDIO! Phenomenal audio, one of the best, narrated by the amazing jonathan Davis. Our book club is reading it for this month, and I can't wait to see what everyone thinks. The literary themes infused with coming of was just magical.

annieb said...

One of my all-time favorite books is The Little Prince. I read it every time I need comfort or wisdom. I know it is a childrens book, but usually I am feeling like a child when I read it and somehow it always helps. It is short, but has a little bit of everything, except maybe romance. (Great new picture, by the way.)

Jeanne said...

I finished The Shadow of the Wind only because an older friend I respected immensely had lent it to me because she thought I'd like it. And I did like the ending and was glad I'd read it, afterwards. (Don't enter me, please; I don't intend to read it again.)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Dragonfly Daydreams - Sometimes it's timing, but who knows.

Alex - Yowza, she really didn't like it. I'm ok with that. There are books that just resonate with you despite their flaws, and this is one of those for me. Others that I'm "suppose" to love have fallen flat and sometimes you can't even explain why exactly. Reading is such a subjective experience.

Sandy - I'm so glad you loved this one! My next reread will definitely be the audio version.

annieb - I love that book! I think I'm due for a reread.

Jeanne - At least you liked the ending, that's something.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

We read this as a book club and it's one of our favorites!
(no need to enter me in drawing).

Anonymous said...

I am completely sold and have just jotted it down in my precious book where I keep track of books recommended to me by other blogs. Thank you for the lovely detailed review and recommendation.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Melissa Mc - I'd be nervous about suggesting this one for my book club, because I think I'd be bummed if they hated it.

FABR Steph - Oh good! I hope you like it.

Carl V. Anderson said...

Don't include me in the giveaway, I already have two different copies of this book. Just wanted to chime in and say that I am even more encouraged to read this now (I didn't read any spoilers). It has been staring longingly at me for far too long, it needs to be near the top of this year's RIP list for certain. Even more so since I recently won a copy of The Angel's Game signed by the author.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Carl V - It would be perfect for RIP this year! I hope you like it.

Kristi said...

I have a library copy of this on my shelf right now. I can't remember who convinced me to pick it up. I have heard that it's one of those love it or hate it books, but I'm excited to give it a shot.

I didn't realize it was set in Barcelona. We're planning a family trip there in October. I always enjoy reading books set in the places I travel so this should be perfect.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kristi - Oh man, you should definitely read it around the time you take your trip! I love doing that too. It's actually what inspired the Reading the States series. I love reading fiction and nonfiction about the place I'm about to visit.