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The Shadow of the Wind

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Shadow of the Wind

“Once, in my father’s bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his ear.”

Carlos Ruiz Zafón wrote this intriguing novel about the magic of literature in 2001 and rose to world-wide fame following its publication and subsequent translation into many languages.

The story begins in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona in the 1940s. Daniel Sempere is taken by his father, a widowed book seller, to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The labyrinthine corridors of this secret archive are filled with obscure books. Daniel gets to choose one and is drawn to the eponymous The Shadow of the Wind by the long-forgotten author Julián Carax, a fellow son of Barcelona. We follow Daniel on his adventures as he tries to unravel the mystery behind Julián’s disappearance several years ago. Slowly, the stories of Daniel and Julián intertwine. Lives are at stake. A man with a burnt face is trying to hunt down the very last existing copy of The Shadow of the Wind – the same copy that is in Daniel’s possession. Thrown into the mix are a sinister police officer and an ex-spy turned beggar. 

As the above might suggest, Ruiz Zafón has written a story within a story, and he does it masterly. His rich, poetic language draws me in every time I read his novels (more about the other novels further down). Credit should also be given to his English translator, Lucia Graves.

I have read The Shadow of the Wind more than once, and every time I find it hard to put it down. Ruiz Zafon writes a ripping yarn: there are mysterious strangers, star-crossed lovers, and mixed-up identities. Cigarettes glimmer in the dark and there might even be an appearance of the devil himself. At times, the book strongly reminded me of 19th-century Gothic novels. In fact, I struggle to pin down a genre for this novel: it’s part literary thriller, part coming of age story, part Gothic mystery. 

Another thing I love about this book is the setting, Ruiz Zafón’s native Barcelona. This is one of those books that would just not be the same were they set anywhere else, just like, say, Mrs Dalloway is inextricably linked to London. We follow Daniel through Barcelona’s Gothic quarter with its labyrinth of narrow streets and historic buildings, down the Ramblas boulevard, and up to Montjuïc. (Do not, of course, expect to read a glossy tourism advert.)

If you end up reading this book and like it, there is good news. The novel is part of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books tetralogy. And the most fascinating thing about this series? According to the author, it can be read in any order. Yes, that’s right! You can read the books in publication order, starting with The Shadow of the Wind, or in chronological order starting with The Angel’s Game, or perhaps you start with one of the two later novels, The Prisoner of Heaven or The Labyrinth of Spirits. Although I personally read the books in publication order, I can see that it would work to swap them around as a first reader due to the way their stories are told. It’s nothing but intriguing! 

To sum up, The Shadow of the Wind is a proper page turner. Its many different layers are fascinating even on the second or third read. If you like Gothic novels, have enjoyed novels such as Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose or Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, or indeed like the city of Barcelona, I whole-heartedly recommend this book to you. 

Laura

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