It seems obvious that a writer will love books, and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind is one that celebrates books. It opens with a visit to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Barcelona in 1945, where father and son go for the passing on of a tradition. The young boy is our main character, Daniel, and he learns that in this hidden library “Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul” (5). He is to choose one book that he will ensure will live forever and he takes a book he has never heard of, “The Shadow of the Wind” by Julian Carax. And then the story takes off.
Daniel has unwittingly entered a mystery as someone is determined to destroy all the books Carax wrote, even though hardly any of his books were sold. He is confronted by a man disfigured by fire who threatens him to turn over the book, but Daniel refuses. He also refuses to sell it to a rare book seller. Instead, Daniel is determined to find out what happened to Julian Carax and why someone wants all the books destroyed.
As the mystery continues, Daniel finds himself questioning his own choices, which begin to look like parts of Carax’s life story. He tries to explain all this to one of the people whose life intersects with Carax and Daniel. While it explains his involvement in this story, it also explains why so many people seek out novels. “I told her how 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” (179).
…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…Zafon
The mystery takes Daniel into another world where sanity is lost, revenge is sought, and evil has power. Zafon takes the reader deep into the world, but loses the thread as some of the mystery becomes obvious. Toward the end of the book he drops in a long letter (over 80 pages) from one of the characters which basically ties up on the loose ends in a way too convenient for a book this well written. Zafon is a great writer and his characters speak in an other-worldly fashion that helps create a nearly magic-realist novel. Even if the mystery is wrapped up too neatly, the shadowy world he creates is an attractive place to spend time.
The novel, published in 2001, is one of the best-selling books of all time and Zafon has followed it up with three novels connected to this one as well as young adult novels. You can learn more about him and his writings at his website.