The Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
translated by Lucia Graves
5 stars - beautiful prose and a compelling story
The Ateneo was - and remains - one of the many places in Barcelona where the nineteenth century has not yet been served its eviction notice. A grand stone staircase led up from a palatial courtyard to a ghostly network of passageways and reading rooms. There, inventions such as the telephone, the wristwatch, and haste seemed futuristic anachronisms. The porter, or perhaps it was a statue in uniform, barely noticed my arrival. I glided up to the first floor, blessing the blades of a fan that swirled above the sleepy readers, melting like ice cubes over their books.
What a pleasure to read beautiful prose. I give high marks both to the author and the translator (who has surely captured all the writing craft of the original text).
This book is a reader's delight on many levels. There is the writing itself, as well as a textured story that takes the reader in directions unexpected. Oh, and don't forget that at the core of the story are books. The love of books and of reading. The power of the written word.
In the opening, young Daniel's widowed father takes the boy to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It's a labyrinth of corridors and tunnels where one can get lost, not just in the layers upon layers of books, but literally in the maze of the structure. Daniel is told to select one volume to keep and protect. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, and therein begins his journey.
The story takes place in the first half of the twentieth century.
Daniel is captivated by the book and determines to find more works by Mr. Carax. He is flummoxed when he discovers that somebody is seeking out and destroying every copy of every book Carax ever wrote.
"[Daniel's] innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona's darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness, and doomed love, and he realizes that if he doesn't find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly."
The book starts off in a slow, dreamy fashion, but picks up the pace, almost without the reader noticing. I read the last 200 (out of 487) pages in one, big gulp (who cares for housework when there is an exceptional story to be read).
Fermin Romero de Torres, one of the characters in the book, is prone to wonderful proclamations.
" ' Television, my dear Daniel, is the Antichrist, and I can assure you that after only three or four generations, people will no longer even know how to fart on their own and humans will return to living in caves, to medieval savagery, and to the general state of imbecility that slugs overcame back in the Pleistocene era. Our world will not die as a result of the bomb, as the papers say, it will die of laughter, of banality, of making a joke of everything, and a lousy joke at that.'"
I recently made the acquaintance of a woman from Venezuela who noticed the book on my side table and was delighted to learn that I was reading her favorite author. Of course she had read the book in its original Spanish, but I assured her that the translation was providing me with the same exceptional experience she had.
One note. Do pay attention to names during the first hundred pages or so. I was not as determined as I should have been and there was a period where I found myself a bit tangled as to who the different players were. No problem, the author got me all caught up after a while.