Published by Subterranean Press
Where does one begin when in a review of one of the most successful novels of the past decade? A novel lauded both by critics and non-critics alike on a global level? Just like this, I suppose, when the novel in question is Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s haunting and beautiful novel The Shadow of the Wind. The book and its story of a lovelorn boy coming of age in Spain has connected with so many readers across the world and very little question can be raised as to why. I don’t know that this will be the most critical review I’ve ever written, but this will be more of a reactionary review.
The first thing that struck me, on the whole, is just how elegantly the prose is written. I don’t know Spanish, so I can’t speak of how accurate the translation is. What I can say is how beautifully and magical the prose is in English. Each passage is naturalistic in its depiction of Daniel’s feelings / emotions and utterly engaging.
The novel takes place after the Spanish Civil war in Barcelona and is something of a bildungsroman of Daniel Sempere and his lifelong obsession with the writer Julián Carax, author of The Shadow of the Wind. When he is very young boy, Daniel is taken to a magical place. A place any book lover would give a finger to visit – The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. His father owns a bookshop and is one of the lucky few who know of the Cemetery. The book Daniel selects from the Cemetery is of course The Shadow of the Wind by the mysterious and elusive Julián Carax. The book touches Daniel in a profound manner, causing young Daniel to try to find other books by Carax. What’s equally mysterious is that Daniel’s father, who owns a bookshop, his father can give him no answers about Carax. When Daniel does ask other booksellers about The Shadow of the Wind, they offer large sums to purchase the book since it is such a rare book. What Daniel soon discovers, along with his friend and father’s employee Fermín Romero de Torres, is that an imposing figure is supposedly destroying all copies of Carax’s novels, attempting to remove all evidence that Carax ever lived. What makes this figure even more frightening is he goes by the name of Laín Coubert, the name the Devil took in Carax’s novel The Shadow of the Wind.
As the haunting narrative of Daniel’s life progresses, he goes to school and becomes friends with a quiet boy named Tomas after Tomas punches him for making fun of his sister Bea. Daniel comes to love a blind girl slightly older than him, Clara. Daniel reads to her and falls in love with her, only to be heartbroken when he discovers she is having an affair with her piano teacher. As Daniel becomes older, he begins to fall in love with Bea, Tomas’s sister.
The devastating affects of the war only add to the otherworldly and haunting feel evoked by the narrative of Daniel’s forlorn love and seemingly unsuccessful attempts and finding Carax. As Daniel and Fermín come closer to solving the Carax mystery, a member of the Crime Squad, Inspector Francisco Javier Fumero, pursues them. Initially, Fumero’s goal is catching Fermín, whose background is left in shadows for most of the novel. Fumero is more creepy and terrifying than Coubert; the sadistic inspector is brutal, violent, and unrelenting in his pursuit of Fermín. Once Fumero discovers why Fermín is palling around with Daniel, Daniel is soon a source of Fumero’s ire.
As Daniel discovers more about Carax, he soon realizes many parallels exist between them. Carax grew up in Barcelona and was a schoolmate of Fermin’s. Like Daniel, Carax’s youthful love life could rightly be considered unrequited. These are just two of many connections between Carax and Daniel. To reveal more would be to rob some of the power and beauty of Zafon’s narrative from the reader.
In many ways, this novel can be considered a love letter to passionate readers in all walks of life. As The Shadow of the Wind has touched Daniel and given form to his life, so have books given purpose and meaning to many a reader’s life. This novel is an absolute must read for any lover of books. The edition Subterranean Press has produced looks to be worthy of the reputation and inner beauty of the novel itself. With cover and interior illustrations by Vincent Chong, the book will be from cover to cover, pictures and words, a beautiful piece of art to be cherished. The novel haunts me still and I plan on revisiting Daniel in my future readings.
As I said, I give this book my highest recommendation.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford