It is 1945 in Barcelona and 10 year old Daniel Sempiere is introduced to a whole new world by his father-the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. His father, a dealer of old books brings Daniel there to cheer him up after Daniel realizes he cannot recall his dead mother’s face. Everyone who visits the Cemetery of Forgotten Books is allowed to choose a book that becomes theirs and theirs alone. Daniel chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. He takes it home and devours it. Wanting to learn more about the author and find other works by him, Daniel starts to dig around and makes a shocking discovery-someone is systematically tracking down and burning every Carax book ever written. Daniel decides to dig further into the life of the mysterious author to find out why someone would want to do this and is thrown into a mystery more complex than he imagined-and potentially dangerous.
While gathering background information on Julian Carax, Daniel is confronted by a scarred shady character who says his name is Lain Coubert-the same name Carax gives the devil in The Shadow of the Wind. He enlists the help of new found friend Fermin Romero de Torres and together they start to uncover pieces of the puzzle of what happened to Julian Carax and why his novels are disappearing but each puzzle piece unearthed seems to lead to a new and more complex piece of the story. Daniel and Fermin’s investigation is hampered significantly by the crooked police man Inspector Fumero who will do everything in his power to get Daniel and Fermin to back off and hand over The Shadow of the Wind.
The wonderful language and the images it conjured in my head are what hooked me on this book right off the bat. From Daniel:
“I imagined Julian Carax at my age, holding that image in his hands, perhaps in the shade of the same tree that now sheltered me. I could almost see him smiling confidently, contemplating a future as wide and luminous as that avenue, and for a moment I thought there were no more ghosts there than those of absence and loss, and that the light that smiled on me was borrowed light, real only as long as I could hold it in my eyes, second by second.”
Through lines such as those the story pours forth and just when you think you’ve grasped the main story and have a good idea what’s happening, Zafon takes you off in another direction. What starts out as a story about a mysterious book and its author evolves into a story of five childhood friends whose bonds-for better or worse-will last a lifetime, a tragic love story and hidden family secrets. With Daniel we experience a boy’s first crush and broken heart, his growing into a young man, and his first real love which may also end in tragedy. In the end we do find out who the shady scarred man is, what happened to Julian Carax and why the sinister Inspector Fumero is so intent on getting his hands on the book but the author takes the reader on quite a ride before all of this is revealed.
This book is part literary fiction, part historical fiction, and part thriller. I really loved that I was not able to figure any of it out before the end. I do think this novel is meant to be read slowly rather than speeding through it. There are so many plots and subplots going on that there is a chance something may be missed by blowing through it. Shadow was translated from Spanish to English and I don’t think anything was lost at all in the translation. This book made my top ten list for the year and I can’t wait to read something else by the author.
This book is from my own personal library