First published in Spain in 2001 by award-winning Carlos Ruiz Zafón, his first adult novel became an instant success and has been translated into several languages. The English edition, translated by Lucia Graves and published a few years later, is still a bestselling book. With almost 300,000 ratings on GoodReads and an average rating of 4.24 out of 5, you know that this book for bibliophiles is going to be good. A secret library, a mystery surrounding an old out-of-print book, and set in pre-WWII Barcelona – what’s not to love? Penguin Books | January, 2005 | Paperback | 487 pp
“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.”
The story begins in Barcelona with a young Daniel Sempere and his widowed father. They own a small bookstore and although they’re not rich, they do well enough. Daniel’s father takes him to a secret library that few know about called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and he makes Daniel swear to keep it a secret. The nondescript door opens on his father’s command from within, and inside is a labyrinthine maze of bookshelves towering to the ceiling. As a rite of passage, Daniel’s father tells him to choose one book. It would be the book he adopts, one that he must always care for. Daniel chooses a dusty tome entitled The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax.
“This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived it and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”
Daniel reads the book in one night and falls in love with it. He wants to know more about this author Julián Carax. Daniel wants to read all of his books. When Daniel asks around, he discovers that a Carax book is an incredibly rare find. They simply don’t exist. They’ve all been bought up and destroyed and the author is supposedly dead. This makes his volume priceless, especially due to the mysterious nature of the author’s death.
When Daniel gets a little older, word has gotten out that he owns a rare Carax novel and he is approached by two unsavory characters looking for the book. This proves to be too much temptation for Daniel, and he begins to pry into the mystery of who Julián Carax was and what happened to him. Since Carax grew up in Barcelona, it was easy to follow the trail. But not everyone who knew Julián is forthcoming, and the closer he gets to solving the mystery, the closer others get to stopping him.
Who was Julián Carax? Why was he killed in a duel? Why had he left Barcelona? Who is buying up all his books and burning them? Most of all, why are people hunting Daniel, desperate to claim that last known book?
Daniel isn’t alone in his quest. He first confidante is Fermín Romero de Torres, a man who had escaped the torture rooms and lived as a ghost of himself on the streets until Daniel and his father took him home, cleaned him up, and gave him a job in their bookshop. The ever-grateful Fermin, a philanderer and hopeless romantic, aids Daniel in his quest, even when things get dangerous. And when Fermin takes a hit, Daniel also confides in the powerful Don Gustavo, the original book expert who told the younger Daniel how much his book was worth and why. Daniel also invites Bea, the sister to his best friend and his romantic interest, into the intrigue – but that’s where the danger really begins – and Bea is a target.
The Shadow of the Wind is a literary masterpiece with Gothic mystery and romanticism. The characters are rich with development and details, and the reader can’t help but fall in love with many of them. Daniel’s father reminds me of Atticus Finch; if Atticus were to be a bookseller, this would be him. Fermin is witty, naughty, and absolutely hilarious – but most of all, he’s unconditionally devoted to the Sempere family who rescued him. He keeps his promises. Julián Carax is an interesting character who we learn about through secondhand accounts from childhood to adulthood. Although we never really know him on a personal level, we see the trials he had endured. Daniel’s life mirrors that of Julián’s in many ways.
“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”
They mystery is done well, but I must admit that I figured it out early on. Still, there are some eerie elements including a haunted house, tales of voodoo and tragic deaths, a burned man following Daniel, conspiracy and urban myths. The time period and setting is another spectacular feature that yearns to be discovered.
You can’t go wrong with this book. Highly recommended.