Review: The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Translated by Lucia Graves). New York: Penguin Books, 2005.

Summary: Daniel Sempere’s life is changed when he finds a mysterious book in the Cemetery of Lost Books, and embarks on a quest to learn the true story of its mysterious author, one that places him in great peril.

Daniel Sempere is the son of a widowed bookseller, struggling to retain the memory of his mother’s face. Then his father takes him through the labyrinthine streets of Barcelona to the Cemetery of Lost Books where he is directed to find one book that would become his. The book he chooses will be one he is to make sure never disappears. The book he chooses is one titled The Shadow of the Wind by a Julian Carax. He is enthralled and would know more about its author.

His father sends him to a fellow bookseller, from whom he learns that he possesses the only copy, all the others having been burned. He falls for the man’s blind daughter, several years older than he, and even gives her the book at one point, only to catch her in flagrante with her piano teacher. He retrieves the book.

A mysterious, and seemingly sinister figure approaches him to buy the book. He calls himself Lain Coubert, the name of a character in the book. He smells of smoke and his face darkened, shriveled. Daniel refuses, keeps his commitment to the book, and to learning the truth of Carax. He is aided by a beggar, Fermin, who he and his father take in. Fermin turns out to be a fascinating figure, and his and Daniel’s investigations take them on escapades throughout the city, one of the funniest in an asylum where they make a promise to a horny old man, He becomes Daniel’s mentor in the art of love as Daniel falls in love with his friend Tomas’ sister Beatriz.

Their investigations bring upon them an old enemy of Fermin in the form of police detective Fumero, an ambitious figure who pushed a mentor to his death, and has a vendetta against Carax. Their investigations also lead to a woman with a connection to Carax’s publisher, Nuria Monfort. They learn that Carax had been in love with Penelope. the daughter of the powerful Aldaya family, coveted by Fumero. In the end, he flees to Paris, where Nuria came in contact with him. He was supposed to have returned to Barcelona for Penelope, only to have supposedly died in a duel–Julian’s father seems to indicate that it was not his son whose body was found. It turns out that Nuria knows much more, revealed in a letter she writes for Daniel when she realizes her own life is in danger. It occupies the last third of the novel, revealing the truth about Carax, as well as truths of which Carax was unaware.

The reader notices the parallels between Julian Carax and Daniel. Both worked for fathers, with mothers dead or estranged. Lain Coubert, a character of Carax, haunts Daniel. Then there are the loves of Julian and Daniel, including Daniel’s trysts with Beatriz in the abandoned Aldaya mansion. Above all, there is the book, and Daniel’s quest to know its author.

It’s a plot that drew me in, along with the delightful and sometimes riotous relationship between Daniel and Fermin. One almost can visualize their Barcelona (and the book includes a walking tour of the real places). Zafón has been compared to the likes of Eco and Marquez. I actually preferred Zafón, whose writing involved more realism and less magic, One delights in the affection of Daniel’s father for his son, and the loyalty between Daniel and Fermin, who supplants his friendship with Tomas. The one plot element I wonder about was using Nuria Monfort’s letter to unravel the mystery of Carax. So much of the story is in that letter, which is a engrossing read, but one wonders if Zafón could not find another way to unravel the story through the investigations of Daniel and Fermin.

The novel doesn’t end with the letter bur I will refrain from saying much more except to say, what an ending, well worth the 450 pages that precede it!

3 thoughts on “Review: The Shadow of the Wind

  1. I too read this fascinating book several years back and would recommend it to anyone with a sense of adventure and wonder. It’s long but I could not put it down.

    Liked by 1 person

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