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[6] Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind takes a line of betrayal, lost friendship, hatred, love, and dreams that lived in the shadow of the wind. It is a touching homage to the mystical power of books that serve as mirrors to offer us what already carry inside us. Very few novel like the one in question powerfully illustrates how a book can incite sentiment buried deep inside our heart that only become unleashed at a certain time and at a certain stage of life’s walk, upon the stimulation of a message.

For Daniel, the son of a Barcelona bookseller, Julian Carax’s novel seems to be waiting for him even before his birth on the shelf of the clandestine Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a most best-kept secret of the city. It is a library tended by the city’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone, a dedicated bibliophile, who will care about them and relish them again. Destiny is for sure at work regardless of whether it is Daniel who chooses Julian Carax’s book or the book itself does choose him. The mystery Daniel yet to demesmerize, peel by peel, strip by strip, layers by layer, ineluctably binds people from chance encounter in life together through a strange chain of destiny.

The bookseller, Daniel’s father, initiates his son into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books to console him of his despondency over the loss of memory of his mother’s face. As his father coaxes him to choose a book that will carry ineffable meaning and irresistible appeal for him from the seemingly boundless, spiraling labyrinth of shelves, Daniel picks Julian Carax’s The Shadow of the Wind, which intrigues him. The novel, its character, which later on brings out of the pages and chases after him, and its mysterious author, at once fascinates him. He refuses to sell the book at any price, guards it as his most precious possession and adopts it for life.

To Daniel’s shock, a strange person who later reveals to him to be a man deprived of any facial feature, has been systematically and assiduously destroying every single copy of every book Julian Carax had written. Collectors either sell off or surrender altogether their remaining copies to the man for fear of deadly mishap despite the high values of the books. It intrigues Daniel even more as he realizes he may possess the very last copy of Carax’s books in existence.

Daniel, with the complicity of the witty Furmin, an ex-spy, ventures to unravel the mystery of Julian Carax only to realize all his findings, leads, second-hand rumors, third-hand stories, vague memories, and opinions are nothing but scrapes of an iceberg: they only add to Carax’s enigma. Barcelona is the city in which Carax was born and from which he disappeared without a trace at the start of the war.

Further investigation leads Daniel to Penelope Aldaya who sits at the center of the whole mystery, with whom she was enmeshed in a heart-piercing romance relationship. Their love is an act of defiance, arrogance, and subversion: love that is a blind desire to be discovered, a secret that hopes to be laid open, a love that devours them. What he starts off as an innocent quest to rescue Carax from recesses of the past becomes a connecting-the-dot reconstruction of a heart-rending love tragedy with sharp nuances of those who were involved. It also offers a peek of the city’s past that was forgotten and ruined after the war.

Carax’s unswerving desire to lead a private life as if he is no longer interested in the world makes the deepest impression on Daniel. His book conveys a unique message to Daniel and impregnates his resolve to discover his life. For every book has a soul: the soul of the person who writes it and that of the one who reads, lives, and dreams with it. Daniel relates to Carax’s battered love life as his relationship with Beatriz is under fire. Carax’s checkered fate might have awakened a strange but tender sympathy in Daniel, which prompts him to carry on the probe.

The Shadow of the Wind is an uncannily absorbing mystery, a heart-piercing love story, and a literary historical fiction. It pays homage to the mystical power of a book when it finds the reader to whom it appeals and in whom awakes a tender affection and sense of relatability. The novel spins off to numerous leads from the beginning and, with cunning decoys and twists, throws one to dead ends and false tracks which reader often takes to be the truth. The imminent sense of reaching the bottom of the truth often adds to the enigma. The bright side of this punctilious craft of convolution is a tight-knitted plot, spans over intervals of time and memory, riddled of a haunting suspense. One would find the figure of Julian Carax increasingly intriguing as everything related to him seems to be shrouded in mystery. Each of the people involved in this mystery is poisoned by the troubled memory of what he/she feels has been snatched from him/her. The novel is therefore, in a paradoxical way, a homage to the kind of true love that is capable of wrecking what stupendous a damage that Julian Carax has suffered.

5 Responses

  1. What got me to read this book last year was Zafon’s concept of the hidden Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The very idea of a place where all the books that has been abandoned by our memories is just too tempting for every lover books.

    And indeed The Shadow of the Wind does not disappoint for more reasons than the one that initially attracted me to it. You’ve already expressed those reasons most eloquently in your wonderful review.

    But I think one more shadow falls across the pages of the book and that is the shadow of the Spanish Civil War. It comes in the book as a memory that is too fresh to be erased. And indeed, many past events in the main character’s lives cannot be untangled from it.

    This specific shadow becomes personified in the person of the Franco fascist dictatorship’s underling, the murderous Police Inspector Fumero.

    –An Occasional Reader

  2. […] make them all the more refreshing to re-read. Books of which I want to be rid of my memory are Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris, and The Name of the Rose by Umberto […]

  3. […] is the much anticipated The Angel’s Game by Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Having read The Shadow of the Wind, which the publisher is engaging in a campaign to push the sale in light of the release of his new […]

  4. Brilliant review, sir. And since you liked this book very much, you will definitely like Orhan Pamuk’s The New Life, where one person reads a mysterious book and feels his life had changed! The book is a bit complex, some passages are written in stream of consciousness form, some prose are metaphysical. Through the book Pamuk delivers his commentary on power of books, fragility of individual identity, identity of a whole nation, clash of civilization, East-West issues and personal love. At least this what I understand. Understanding of Dante’s La Vita Nuova will help understanding this book.

    I hope you’ll enjoy Orhan Pamuk’s The New Life. 🙂

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