“There are worse prisons than words.”
The planet lost an incredible talent today. Carlos Ruiz Zafón, the author of this truly magnificent book, lost his battle with cancer, at the age of 55. Zafón had a brilliant, gorgeous way with words, and told stories in a way that sink into your bones and stay with you long after you read the last pages. Though he left the world too soon, he left behind him an amazing legacy in the novels that have touched countless readers across our world, which have been translated into more than 40 languages. I’m so thankful to have read and been touched by The Shadow of the Wind, and I’m grateful to have the rest of his catalogue in my future.
“Well, this is a story about books.”
“About accuse books, about the man who wrote them, about a character who broke out of the pages of a novel so that he could burn it, about ta betrayal and a lost friendship. It’s a story of love, of hatred, and of dreams that live in the shadow of the wind.”
My very favorite element of The Shadow of the Wind is the importance placed on the written word. The book opens with Daniel, our protagonist, at the age of ten, being led by his father to a mysterious new world. This world is The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where books of all kinds come when they have passed out of the cultural consciousness. Without the Cemetery, these books would be lost. Here, however, they are merely forgotten, slumbering on a shelf until the right reader comes along and awakens them once more. There’s no magic here, but that doesn’t keep the Cemetery from being an incredibly magical setting. Upon their first visit, everyone who steps inside is asked to adopt a book and become its advocate, to bring it back to life, at least in their own minds. Daniel chooses a book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, and this book will radically alter his life.
“I couldn’t 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.”
Outside of the eponymous novel Daniel finds waiting for him in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, this story has so much to say about the power of words. In its pages, we see how every book has a life of its own, and how, while every book is different for every reader, no one ever truly owns a story. Not even its author. Books are both transportation and destination, refuge and reformation. I can’t think of anything more powerful and impactful in my life than books. I met God through a Book. I learned what I wanted for my life, and what kind of person I wanted to be in the pages of books. I deeply believe that nothing speaks as loudly to the heart as art, and stories are the best mirrors and windows through which we can see ourselves and the world.
“Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes has, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”
The Shadow of the Wind is an engrossing mystery, and a beautiful ode to books and the words that comprise them, but it’s also heartrendingly tragic. It manages to be so many things, but that air of tragedy is one of the elements that most moved me. I love how Zafón was able to portray the cyclical nature of history on a small scale. As Daniel investigates the mysterious life of the author who penned The Shadow of the Wind, Daniel’s favorite book, we see how the lives of the two men run parallel to one another. Can Daniel learn from the mistakes of the past, or is he doomed to repeat them?
“A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.”
I first read this book seven or so years ago. And yet, I was still on edge as Daniel conducted his investigation. Inquiries into the life of a novelist shouldn’t have been dangerous, and yet I could feel the tension as Daniel balanced between the past and his present, which only worsened as the two drew closer to one another. While I won’t mention many characters, though I found most all of them delightfully lifelike, I have to say something about Fumero. Here is an officer of the law who uses his position as both armor and weapon. He reminded me of a far more malicious Javert from Les Misérables, with none of Javert’s redeeming qualities. His single-minded focus on hunting his prey, and the twisted pleasure he takes in harming others, makes him one of the most disturbing and least sympathetic villains I’ve come across in fiction. In an age where there is currently so much dialogue on corruption in law enforcement, his character hit particularly close to home.
“A story is a letter the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise.”
The writing in this book is absolutely exquisite. The prose is lush and musing, the cast is varied and charming and immensely entertaining, the setting palpably rendered. There were descriptions that made me want to weep, and a few that actually did have tears spilling. The romances were captivating, and the mystery elements were brilliantly handled. The tragic was deftly balanced by the comic, and I laughed as many times as I ached. I was disturbed and charmed in equal measures. So much was said about growing up that rang true and resonated deeply. But what really blows my mind is that this is a translation. When prose is this stunning, it is made doubly impressive by the realization that the author didn’t write it in the language in which I’m reading it. Lucia Graves did a truly remarkable job translating this book into English, and I am awed by the team she and Zafón made.
“I was raised among books, making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day.”
Below is my original review, one I wrote long before I actually wrote for a blog or posted on Goodreads. I was just so in love with this book that I needed to tell someone, even if that someone was imaginary. I see this as one of the origin points of my reviewing life, and as that life has brought me so much joy and five of the most wonderful friends on the planet in the form of my fellow Novel Notions bloggers, I had to include that original review. I’ve come a long way since writing this, but it makes me smile every time I read it.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, has got to be one of the most unique stories I’ve read in a while. I was reading it in the living room while Chris (my awesome husband) was changing the strings on my guitar. I must have been so into the book that I forgot he was there, because I generally try really hard not to talk to the book I’m reading when other people are around. I got to a crazy plot twist, gasped out loud, and said “Dum dum dummm!” in this deep, kind of creepy voice. I then looked up because I could feel Chris’s confused stare burning my hair follicles. After a sheepish grin and apology for forgetting he was in the room, I returned to my reading. Less than ten minutes later, I did the exact same thing again. This time Chris just rolled his eyes and kept tightening his B string.
The Shadow of the Wind is not within my usual genre of book. I read a little of everything, but I generally read fantasy when I’m happy, Nora Roberts when I don’t feel good, and classics when I start feeling like I’m not as smart as I used to be. However, I’m a sucker for books about books, so I adopted The Shadow of the Wind from a used book store when I happened across it. A boy named Daniel finds a book by the same name and becomes obsessed with finding out everything he can about the author. His search radically changes his life and the lives of everyone else involved.
It was one of the best magical realism books I’ve ever read. And, as I’ve pointed out through my gasps in the first paragraph, the amount of plot twists was unreal. I generally guess plot twists way before I read them or see them, but Zafón shocked me at almost every turn. If you want to read something that will keep you guessing, and possibly talking out loud even when you’re not alone, give The Shadow of the Wind a try. It scores a 5 out of 5 on Celeste’s scale of awesome fiction.
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