The Shadow of the Wind (2004) Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Gothic quarter old Barcelona
Gothic quarter old Barcelona

 “Well, this is a story about books.”

About books?”

About accursed books, about a 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.”

You talk like the jacket blurb of a Victorian novel, Daniel.”

That’s probably because I work in a bookshop and I’ve seen too many. But this is a true story.”

 

 

This bestselling novel (15 million and counting!) centres on the story of teenager Daniel Sempere’s personal growth through a dizzying variety of experiences and encounters, set in post 1945 Barcelona. His life parallels that of the mysterious Julian Carax, the author of the novel ‘The Shadow of the Wind.’ This story is an amalgamation of genres including Gothic mysteries, a coming of age, illicit and forbidden romance, social realism and commentary, crime thrillers, revenge tragedy, eroticism, elements of demonic possession, fantasy, magical realism and historical fiction. Zafon’s achievement is to use these elements in convincing combination with a driving narrative, which entices and absorbs the reader. He carries an intricate plot through strikingly realised settings; the shadowy streets and forbidding interiors of the Gothic Quarter of old Barcelona and the purgatorial, magical atmosphere of the Cemetery of Forgotten books.

“Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The 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.”

 

Inhabiting Zafon’s world is an extensive, strongly delineated cast of characters, including the rich comic fiestiness of Fermin Romero de Torres, the vicious intensity of Francisco Javier Fumero, the haunted obsession of Julian Carax and the palpable sensuality of Nuria Montfort. The protagonist Daniel Sempere is a fine portrait of flawed, risk taking and testosterone driven youth who is driven to explore a world of which he dangerously ignorant and naive. From an opening typical of young adult fiction, Zafon’s previous home ground, he takes both Daniel and the reader into the savageries consequent to the Spanish Civil War, where hundreds of thousands of Spaniards lost their lives. Many of these characters carry the physical and psychological scars of war, an integral part of the atmosphere and setting of darkness, suspicion and fear.

Zafon’s themes are the importance of friendships and community connection, the destructive consequences of obsession, the power of literature and storytelling, and the need for tolerance in a society of fiercely disputed political and cultural perspectives. His use of multiple narrators, some of uncertain reliability, and shifts in chronology, enhances the sense that like Daniel, the reader must navigate through an opaque, uncertain and sinister world.

This novel is a hybrid of the popular, genre and literary novel which consistently challenges the reader to at once be immersed in events, yet at the some time question the authority and reliability of the numerous authorial voices. There is so much to be interested in this story. Above all it disputes the notion that popularity equals lack of quality. Not in this case!

 

“…until that moment I had not understood that this was a story about lonely people, about absence and loss, and that that was why I had taken refuge in it until it became confused with my own life, like someone who has escaped into the pages of a novel because those whom he needs to love seem nothing more than ghosts inhabiting the mind of a stranger.”

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