Carlos Ruiz Zafón

"The Shadow of the Wind"

(reviewed by Mary Whipple MAY 15, 2004)

"Once, in my father's bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of those words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover or how much we learn or forget—we will return. For me, those enchanted pages will always be the ones I found among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books."

At the age of eleven, Daniel Sempere awakens early one morning, screaming. He has suddenly realized that he has forgotten his mother's face. His mother, who died of cholera during an epidemic seven years before, had continued to be a real, though invisible, presence in Daniel's life after her death, and he had constantly "talked" to her, but he has now discovered that her face has completely vanished from his memory. His devoted father, a seller of used books, comforts him, and as dawn breaks, he decides to take him on his first visit to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a secret, maze-like library where books "no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands." By tradition, each visitor to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, on his first visit, has to choose a book—any book—and adopt it, guaranteeing that it will never disappear.

At the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, Daniel is attracted to a particular book, standing "timidly on one corner of a shelf," and he knows instantly that The Shadow of the Wind "had been waiting for me there for years, probably since before I was born. Written by Julian Carax, The Shadow of the Wind is the story of a man's quest to find the father he never knew, to recapture his lost youth, and to lay to rest the ghosts of a lost love. Totally captivated by the book, Daniel later tries to find out more about its mysterious author and locate additional novels, but he discovers that some other unknown seeker is also searching for Carax's books—in order to burn them.

Ruiz Zafon's novel begins with Daniel at age eleven and takes us into the lives of Daniel, his father, and Fermin, their irrepressible and resilient bookshop employee and follows them for ten years, but it also takes us into the lives of the mysterious Julian Carax, his family, school friends, lovers, and, importantly, his enemies, people who seem bent on pursuing and wiping out all traces of him and his work, even ten years after his purported death in 1936. As Daniel searches for any information he can find on Carax, he is haunted by a ghostly apparition in the misty lamplight, a faceless man who seems to have an inordinate interest in him, a sadistic police inspector, and an incarnation of the devil himself. Ultimately, his investigation into the life of Julian Carax endangers the lives of people who have been associated with Carax in the past, though Daniel does not know why or how.

Lovers of the Gothic romance will be handsomely rewarded by this action-filled plot, as a sensitive and loving young boy comes of age while trying to unravel the mysteries associated with the elusive Julian Carax. Heavy, sensual imagery creates a sense of foreboding, and the night-time mists, storms, and winter cold, add atmosphere to dramatic scenes, astounding events, and fortuitous coincidences. A mysterious photograph, letters which go astray, false identities, an abandoned mansion with a sobbing ghost, a matricide, an evil stepfather, thwarted love, mysterious disappearances, revenge which never dies, and murder most foul all complicate the action. The evil characters are truly villainous, Daniel and his father are truly virtuous, and the women whom Daniel and Julian Carax love are pure and true of heart.

Though the novel offers a good escape, it is almost six hundred pages long. Extensive background information for virtually all the characters (and even one house) adds significantly to the length by giving more information than the reader really needs, and many scenes could be compressed. Occasionally, the mood is broken by mild profanity and bathroom humor or by an image that doesn't quite work—"God's dandruff" as a metaphor for snow, for example.

Overall, however, the novel should provide hours of entertainment for readers who enjoy escaping into a world of gothic romance and intrigue. More relevant than some other romances because of its direct connection to the world of books, it also reflects the political climate of Spain after the Civil War and World War II. The characters are memorable, if relatively uncomplicated, and the parallels between Daniel's coming-of-age and the story of Julian Carax offer some sense of universality to an otherwise sensational melodrama.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 863 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Shadow of the Wind at Penguin Group

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About the Author:

Carlos Ruiz ZafonCarlo Ruiz Zafón was born in 1964 in Barcelona, Spain. He attended University and worked in advertising before moving to Los Angeles in his late 20s.

He had written four books for young adults before turning to writing Shadow of the Wind, which spent more than a year on the Spanish bestseller list, much of it at number one, and has sold in more than twenty countries.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1994, where he still lives, and works as a film script writer and also writes for the Spanish daily papers El País and La Vanguardia. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014