The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a literary account of the impact that literature can have.
The writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón was born in Barcelona, Spain, in September 1964. He began his literary career writing young adult fiction. Already his first novel The Prince of Mist (El principe de la niebla - 1993) earned him the Premio Edebé. Then followed The Midnight Palace (El palacio de la medianoche - 1994), The Watcher in the Shadows (Las luces de septiembre - 1995), Marina (1999, English translation forthcoming). Only in the new millennium he turned towards adult fiction. The Shadow of the Wind (La sombra del viento - 2001) immediately received international acclaim. The Angel's Game (El juego del angel - 2008) and The Prisoner of Heaven (El prisionero del cielo - 2011) are its prequel and sequel respectively in the cycle of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
In The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafón interweaves the threads of different stories into an intricate pattern forming the whole of the novel. The story revolving around Daniel Sempere and his search for traces of the writer Julián Carax is set in Barcelona. It starts in summer 1945. His father, the owner of a little bookshop, takes the ten-year-old to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a secret place in the old town to which only the initiated have access. There the boy is allowed to take one book from the shelves under the condition that he promises to be its guardian for the rest of his life. He picks a volume with a handsome binding that shows the name Julián Carax and the title The Shadow of the Wind inscribed on its cover. Of course, Daniel begins to read the book as soon as he is back at home in his room above the bookshop. The novel engrosses the boy and he spends the whole night reading it until the end. Then he searches for other books of the writer, but only encounters mystery because Julián Carax and his books seem to have disappeared without trace. After his initial enthusiasm Daniel slowly forgets about the book. Years later a mysterious man smelling of burnt paper is after Daniel and claims the book from him. This is the starting point of a new quest that reveals the tragic history of Julián Carax, his love and his writings. Daniel is drawn dangerously deep into the life of the author, but along the way he grows up, makes friends with a former political prisoner of the Franco regime and meets his love Bea.
The Shadow of the Wind is a very complex novel with many different plots running side by side or one within the other, but they are all well balanced and the story always runs smoothly. Carlos Ruiz Zafón even manages to include into the text the hardships and dangers that the Spanish people experienced under Franco although they stay widely in the background. The characters described are very lively. Throughout the book the writer’s language remains fluent despite the many twists that the story takes. The text is interspersed with lots of metaphors, sometimes without necessity or in abundance, and that can get slightly annoying every now and then. For me the only let-down is the end because the entire mystery surrounding Julián Carax is revealed too quickly.
A book changed the life of Daniel Sempere. We all know such books although very few of us have ever been confronted with real mystery. Literature often exaggerates. Carlos Ruiz Zafón packed a whole lot of life into his first novel for adults, probably more than necessary. However, I enjoyed the read very much and I can recommend The Shadow of the Wind.