The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon
487 pages, Paperback
(2005 Penguin edition, originally published 2001)
Translated into English from Spanish by Lucia Graves
Summary from Goodreads:
Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer's son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax. But when he sets out to find the author's other works, he makes a shocking discovery; someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax's books in existence. Soon Daniel's seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona's darkest secrets - an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.
I blazed through the last 100 pages of this book. I could NOT put it down. But really, that is not how this book should be read. Every moment should be savored. I've had this book on my shelf for years, and for some reason it just never called to me again after that initial purchase. But lately, I've been feeling somewhat disillusioned with the YA books I've been focused on. I've been craving MORE, so I was determined to read an "adult" book again, to get back to my roots and read some literary fiction. This book gave me everything I needed, and more; it reminded me of why I read.
First of all, the language is beautiful. Of the YA books that I've read (and this is me being diplomatic and acknowledging that I have not read all of YA, so therefore can't know for sure, so please don't yell at me), I could maybe point to two or three that achieved this level of writing (Madapple, maybe, The Heretic's Daughter--is that even YA?)---AND I read this one in translation. I can only imagine what this book would be like in Spanish to a native speaker. I quoted this book for a Teaser Tuesday and that was just PAGE 5! This book is not considered YA, despite being almost entirely a coming-of-age story. Daniel's journey into adulthood happens almost without us knowing it, as he continues to search for the truth of Carax's existence.
Secondly, I love how Ruiz Zafon took his time telling the story. This is not a plot-driven book, despite the long-term unraveling of the mystery surrounding Carax's books and life. It is character driven and the Gothic mood and tone of the book rely heavily on the Barcelona setting.
Fermin Romero de Torres is by far the star of the book. His witty banter with the protagonist Daniel is at once vulgar, hilarious, and heartwarming. He helps Daniel learn the ways of manhood: "Nobody knows much about women, not even Freud, not even women themselves. But it's like electricity: you don't have to know how it works to get a shock on the fingers." Despite being the guy that delivers the one-liners, he never strays into the realm of the sidekick. Romero de Torres is fully formed: both strong in his unflinching support of Daniel and weak in his fear of the evil Fumero.
The portions of the book that are written like letters (that provide information pertaining to the mystery) might trip up some people less familiar with the literary end of the spectrum, but this reminded me of Wilkie Collins, who I adore, so I actually enjoyed those parts.
Overall, this was an excellent book. Anyone who appreciates the style and language part of writing a book will love this one. Anyone who is looking for some substance in their reading will find it here. It was exactly what I needed to read to recharge my batteries after wearing myself out on YA.