It’s not too difficult to find a book that will make you laugh as well as make you cry; nor is it that hard to find a book that will make you angry to the point where you just want to scream and throw it against the wall (in a good way, of course). But I’ve got to be honest when I say that for me, finding a book that has left me feeling jealous yet inspired is an occurrence that has been very few and far between. However, after reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon‘s novel, The Shadow of the Wind (translated by Lucia Graves) that’s exactly how I felt: Jealous because I wanted to write like Zafon; inspired because I wanted to write like Zafon. Okay, not exactly like Zafon, but as a writer, one can’t help but want to have the same firm grasp on language as he does.
My sister was the one who recommended the book to me…well, it was actually more like she came into my room, threw it on my bed and said, “Read this.” I just looked between her and the book and said, “Okay?” Her response was, “You’ll like it. It’s a book about books.” As odd as that tidbit of enticement may sound, that was initially what caught my interest. I spend A LOT of time around books (major understatement, by the way). I read the back synopsis and thought, “Interesting.” As intrigued as I was, I didn’t start the book right away because with my bookwormish tendencies, I often start books only to go to the bookstore or library (an almost daily occurrence) and find another book that I’ll start and read while I’m still in the building.
Okay, so getting back to the book. With as much time as I spend around books, I don’t say this very often, but I was blown away by Shadow. These types of statements are usually reserved for works by J.K. Rowling, Diana Wynne Jones, Christopher Moore or Jasper Fforde. But Shadow–taking place in a postwar Barcelona in 1945 and spanning 21 years, ending in 1966–grabbed my interest from the get go. It opens with our hero and narrator Daniel Sempere, age 10, making his first trip to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books with his father, who owns and runs Sempere & Sons, a bookshop that was passed down to him by Daniel’s grandfather, specializing in rare collectors’ editions and second books. The elder Sempere has hopes that it will one day be passed down to his own son. Daniel describes his childhood as being “raised among books, making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day.” Cue a pang of jealousy–having my own bookshop is something I’ve been dreaming of in the last few years.
When Daniel enters the Cemetery, he’s sworn to secrecy about its existent and told to “choose a book, whichever he wants, and adopt it, making sure that it will never disappear, that it will always stay alive.” As the book progresses, it’s scary how accurate Daniel’s father’s words are. The book that Daniel chooses, or rather chooses Daniel is none other than The Shadow of the Wind by a man named Julian Carax. He has heard of neither but that doesn’t matter because Daniel feels that the book has been waiting for him since before he was born. When he gets home he finishes it overnight, in one sitting.
The words spoken by Daniel’s father when he is initiated into the Cemetery, set the wheels of the story in motion as Daniel tries to find more works by Carax. He is unpleasantly surprised to find that not only is the author is not very well-known, therefore his works aren’t widely distributed, but what copies have been out there are being collected and destroyed by some unknown party. The story that follows Daniel’s quest to recover whatever may be left of Carax’s work is one for the ages filled with not just lies and deception, but also love–from the kind between a parent and child to that between lovers, to the kind of love between best friends. There’s war and murder as well as humor. One of my favorite characters besides Daniel, is the man who he picks up off the streets when the bookshop is in need of more help: Fermin Romero de Torres. Even in the darkest of times, Fermin is able to shed some light with his witty and profound insight. One of my favorite moments is when they’re discussing the dire state of Daniel’s semi-existent love life and Fermin advises his younger friend: “Destiny is usually just around the corner. Like a thief, a hooker, or a lottery vendor: its three most common personifications. But what destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it.”
Although the story is told from Daniel’s view in first person, there are times that it breaks into third person whenever he meets with somebody who knows something about Carax. Surprisingly, the jump between perspectives is not really confusing and in the end, neither are the many, many, many subplots woven into the story. With the subplots, you find yourself wondering what the hell it all has to do with anything. This woman was this man’s sister, who went to school with these men, some of whom were in love with the woman, who got pregnant by this man who some of the men ended up loving while the rest hated but was really loved by these people…and the story continues. However, it all obviously sorts out in the end. And quite nicely, I might add.
Something else that kept me reading was the fact that the book goes through a Barcelona that I am familiar with because I spent a week there during spring break this year. It made me wish that I’d read this book before I went because most of the major places mentioned in Shadow are right in the area where my friends and I were staying while we were there. At the end of the book there was even a Shadow of the Wind Walk that takes you through a lot of the places where Daniel spends his time, such as where Sempere & Sons and the apartment he shares with his father would be located, the location Cemetery of Forgotten Books, Las Ramblas, which Daniel walks up and down throughout the book on his quest, and El Quatre Gats–a restaurant that Daniel often frequents throughout the book that we actually ate at for my birthday. Not a bad way to stir up some good memories if I do say so myself.