The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Ok.  Last time I throw my trip in your faces, but when I WAS IN BARCELONA, my friend gave me a copy of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  She picks up copies when she gets a chance and keeps them on hand for visitors or couch surfers.  It makes a perfect souvenir for bookish types as it is set in Barcelona, so many of the places mentioned are now somewhat familiar.   It is also a great, suspenseful read.  I started it on the plane home, and it kept me captivated for many an hour.

The story's narrator is Daniel, 10 years old at the novel's opening and 20 at its close (excepting a brief coda some years later).  This ten years could have been laboriously recounted; instead, Daniel's story is the quietly intriguing foundation for an even more intriguing story - that of a book (also The Shadow of the Wind) and the book's author, Julian Carax.  But this book is not a case of the traditional frame narrative of a story within a story.  These two narratives are inextricably united, startling in their similarities, and utterly necessary to one another.  Daniel's father is a book dealer, specializing in antiques and otherwise hard-to-find titles, and in those opening scenes, we watch as Daniel is "given" the Carax novel under some interesting circumstances.  From there, the plot unfurls, unravels, and recoils along its labyrinthine path, and the reader gleefully follows that path, confident in the capable hands of Zafon.

The story most definitely has a touch of the thriller, not usually a genre I read.  The mystery unfolding was terribly satisfying, though, and kept me enthralled.  I was most pleased that the book was able to surprise me without being off the wall.  At one point, I began to get worried that it was going to do something rather predictable and unnecessary, and I was particularly happy when it did not.

If it seems I am being vague, it's because I am.  I believe any further discussion of thematic or plot points would reveal too much and steal some of the enjoyment of the book.  Instead, I'll provide one good passage and one strong encouragement: read this book.  It is wholly entertaining.
As I walked in the dark through the tunnels and tunnels of books, I could not help thinking that if I, by pure chance, had found a whole universe in a single, unknown book, buried in that endless necropolis, tens of thousands more would remain unexplored, forgotten forever.  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, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wiser the more it forgot. (76)


  1. This is a fantastic read. I've never been to Barcelona, but it's great that your friend keeps copies of this book on hand for visitors! I'm sure the book is even better after you have traveled there.

  2. It definitely made it fun to read about familiar places, but I think the book would have been just as good even if I'd never heard of Barcelona. It is just so story-driven that you don't have to be familiar with any of it to feel like you are right there with it as it is happening. Good stuff!

  3. I really enjoyed this book and have tried to pass it on to others. Not everyone will take it because it's "Spanish."

  4. @Bob: It always amazes me how reluctant some readers are to experience other places or voices. Of course, look at my review of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and you'll see my own brand of reluctance not-so-proudly displayed, so who am I to judge? But it is a really enjoyable novel and one that more should take the risk on.

  5. Sadly, I'm one of the few that did not appreciate this book. At all. I found it so tedious, and even though I've read it twice (once for self, once for a book club) I can remember nothing redeeming about it. Except possibly the shelves of books in their bookstore.

  6. @Bellezza: No, not sadly! If we all liked the same things, this world would be a depressing heap, would it not? Plus, I am totally willing to concede that IF you didn't "get into the story" at the start, it would definitely be a tedious slog. There are a lot of details, a lot of descriptions, a lot of dramatic turns that would be less than fun if you weren't tied to the plot completely. Thanks for the disagreement! I welcome it.