Tuesday, October 20, 2009

121 (2009 #46). The Shadow of the Wind

by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This story occurs in Barcelona and begins in the summer of 1945 when motherless Daniel Sempere is ten years old. His father, an antiquarian bookseller, takes him to the mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a huge secret library where "every book, every volume you see here, has a soul...of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens...In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands....According to tradition, the first time someone visits this place, he must choose a book, whichever he wants, and adopt it, making sure that it will never disappear, that it will always stay alive." (pages 5-6)

The book that calls to Daniel is "The Shadow of the Wind," by one Julian Carax. After reading it in one night, Daniel tries to find other books by Carax. Daniel learns that the book is quite valuable as all of the other copies, and everything else Carax has written, have been destroyed. Over the next ten years, Daniel is consumed by a compulsion to find the mysterious author and solve the puzzle of what happened to him and his books. Daniel himself describes his quest (page 178) as “about accursed 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 a betrayal and a lost friendship. It’s a story of love, of hatred and of the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind.” (And his girlfriend Beatriz teasingly responds, “You talk like the jacket blurb of a Victorian novel.”)

This makes for an incredibly riveting story, full of convolutions and surprises. There are complicated characters and lush language is used to describe Gothic settings and evoke dark moods. Originally written in Spanish by Zafon, translator Lucia Graves did an excellent job. I also love this cover design. Recommended for a fun yet intriguing read, particularly for bibliophiles.

ETA: I listened to the audiobook in June-July 2010 and it is fabulous! Jonathan Davis does a marvelous job as narrator, particularly voicing the incomparable Fermin. The audiobook is enhanced by musical interludes, mostly piano at key points (only once was it jarring), which were composed by author Zafon.

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