I’ve wanted to review Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s brilliant and lovely The Shadow of the Wind for a while now. I’ve hesitated largely because I needed to think of something to say other than simply, holy crap this is good!
I first read The Shadow of the Wind when it was first published in the United States—it was already a best seller in Europe—about four years ago or so. I’ve knew at once it was a book I would reread. Over the holidays, faced with some sixteen hours in the car with two trips to Morristown Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama, my wife and I decided to take turns reading it aloud to each other. I wondered, frankly, if it could possibly be as good as I remembered. It was. No, wait. More than that. It was even better.
The Shadow of the Wind begins with one of my very favorite first lines: “I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.” That’s a pretty hard act to follow, as first sentences go, but the rest of the book, every word, lives up to it. The Shadow of the Wind is, without question, a book lover’s book, filled with dusty old bookshops and lost volumes holding terrible secrets. The very air is heavy with the intoxicating scent of dusty leather, musky old paper, and ink. The language is lovely; line after line, even whole paragraphs, demand to be read aloud and savored.
It’s also a book for lovers of a good story. The richly gothic-thriller plot is Dickensian in the best possible way, filled with surprising twists, fog-shrouded, crumbling old buildings, and labyrinthine, gas-lit streets. Nonetheless, despite its setting—a gothic Barcelona of the mid Twentieth Century—it’s decidedly modern—again in the best possible way, with a profound understanding of character, psychology, and archetype. Zafón’s characters, from comic eccentrics and earth-bound goddesses to struggling literary types and sinister killers, are fascinating, well-drawn, and unforgettable. The Shadow of the Wind is also a hell of a page turner, rich with suspense, mystery, and dark, forbidden romance.
The Shadow of the Wind is a gothic mystery story, certainly, but it is also a love story (or rather, several love stories), a story about the passion for books and stories, a bawdy work of comedy, and certainly a thriller. It’s pages are filled with the wide spectrum of human emotion and experience: love, hate, intrigue, coming of age and (of course) loss of innocence, humor, cowardice, courage, villainy, cruelty, compassion, regret, murder, incest, and, ultimately, redemption. Add to this delicious alchemy characters who come alive and leap off the page, and you have a book that resonates, deeply in the heart, long after the last page is turned.
If I have one complaint, it is that the end seems rather sudden, given the buildup. The events are all foreshadowed and certainly earned, but they seem to happen all too quickly. We are only given a few hints of aftermath; I ached to spend more time with the surviving characters, people I’d come to care about, to see how (or if) they healed, and what became of them. We are given enough, though, and when a book leaves you wanting more, well, there are worse problems.
Reviewers have compared Zafón to such luminaries as Umberto Eco, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and, of course, Dickens. That’s a little unfair, since it sets the readers expectations pretty darn high.I am happy to report Zafón lives up to the comparison, while forging an utterly unique voice all his own. Just last week, I read Zafón’s follow-up, The Angel’s Game, a very welcome to milieu introduced so marvelously in The Shadow of the Wind. Like the previous volume, em>The Angel’s Game is a book to savor and treasure. I’ll review it soon. As soon as I can think of something to say other than, holy crap this is good!