I picked up the Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon a little over a week ago, and while my intent was to motor through it in a day like I did with Ready Player One, I quickly realized that this was a book to savor.
Like Ready Player One, Shadow of the Wind was a fantastic book recommended to me by my Twitter friend Andrew C., but that’s where the similarities end.
First, a brief synopsis (no spoilers):
Life in Barcelona following WWII is difficult for ten-year old Daniel Sempere and his father, a rare book dealer. Daniel’s mother has been dead for six years, and one day, he wakes up to realize he no longer remembers her face. Seeing his panic, Daniel’s father takes him to a sacred place hidden in the heart of the city: the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a sanctuary for books that have been abandoned over time. Amid the stacks and endless rows of tomes, Daniel is encouraged to adopt one book to keep its spirit alive.
Daniel is immediately drawn to the Shadow of the Wind, a book by Julian Carax that soon becomes Daniel’s favorite. Hungry for more of Carax’s work, Daniel begins a quest to find the rest of his novels, only to find that a mysterious figure has been destroying every last copy of Carax’s books.
As Daniel grows from child to teen, he becomes wrapped up in the mystery of Carax’s life and death and soon finds himself facing a villain from Carax’s past. Daniel must solve the mystery of Carax’s murder before he himself meets the same fate.
Zafon has created a beautifully written story in Shadow of the Wind. A mystery and a love story both, this book draws you in immediately with the rich characters and setting and keeps you reading as little hints of the mystery are revealed.
But the mystery wouldn’t have been half as interesting had the characters not been so well-developed. Following Daniel from childhood to near-adulthood in a Barcelona marred by war and in the throes of (I felt) a terrifying dictatorship showed the depth of his obsession with Julian Carax. He would pay almost any cost to finally learn the truth of Carax’s life.
Daniel’s companions on his journey are not as well-developed (well, except for the show-stealing Fermin Romero de Torres, who might be my favorite character ever). But with the first-person viewpoint, we get to see Daniel’s friends and family through his eyes, and in this story, that seems more appropriate than an omniscient viewpoint that might have made for dynamic characters.
Despite the first-person viewpoint, Carax – a shadowy figure long since gone – is fleshed out quite capably through anecdotes and remembrances of the people who knew him. As is the villain (but I won’t spoil that one for you.)
As we learn more about the life and doomed love of Julian Carax, we’re also following the life of Daniel Sempere – a life that seems to mirror that of his idol. But in Daniel’s life, we see how Julian’s might have turned out but for a few bad decisions. And while the children of these stories made their share of mistakes, it was the adults – the parents – that seemed to make the choices that changed the course of these young lives.
I find that interesting. As a child, you tend to think of your parents as almost God-like: all-seeing, all-knowing. But as you grow, you begin to realize that parents aren’t infallible. In Shadow of the Wind, the mistakes of youth appear side-by-side with the mistakes of adulthood. Both have high stakes, and both have dire consequences – but you can’t help but feel the grown-ups should know better.
And as a grown-up who’s still trying to figure it all out – who still doesn’t know better – I appreciated seeing that, no matter how old or young you are, you can still be redeemed. You can still right your wrongs and prevail.