Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is set in Barcelona in 1945. The city is recovering slowly from the ravages of the Spanish Civil War. In the dark, labyrinthine streets of the Gothic quarter, Daniel Sempere lives above the bookshop owned by his widowed father.
Daniel is 10; old enough his father decides to be introduced to the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, to select one book from its shelves and assume the mantle of responsibility for that book throughout the rest of his life.
But the book he chooses, ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ written by the relatively unknown Julián Carax, holds a secret. And in attempting to unravel it’s mystery, Daniel puts himself and his friends in danger. For someone is systematically tracking down and destroying every copy of every book written by Carax. And now they seem bent on destroying Daniel too.
On the basis of this plot alone, Zafon’s book would be a page turner. But it could so easily be simply one of those books that you race through, enjoying the twists and turns and wondering how the final denouement will be executed. Enjoyable but transient like so many other historical-murder-mystery stories. Except, like Eco’s The Name of the Rose this one is different.
It’s a novel of multiple layers and an intricately-woven plot. Within the Gothic-mystery outer layer lies a Bildungsroman, a political thriller, and a romance. Star-crossed lovers share the page with skeletons and bricked up walls and a truly menacing police officer in the shape of Fumero who is corruption and decadence personified.
What lifts Shadow of the Wind above the ordinary, is Zafon’s skill in creating atmosphere. Even in translation, the quality of his writing shines through. Walk with him down Barcelona’s winding, cobbled streets or through the leafy avenues of crumbling, ivy-clad mansions, and every building and corner seems to ooze with dark secrets of the past. Go with Daniel and his friend Fermín, a former Republican agent hideously tortured by Fumero, to a nearby cafe and you can almost taste the tortillas and strong coffee.
It’s a heady mixture.
In an interview some years ago Zafon talked about his feelings towards Barcelona and reflects on the success of his novel. Read the interview here:
Since reading Shadow of the Wind I have read the prequel – The Angel’s Game – the review is posted here