Monday, August 20, 2012

{Review} The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind (El cementerio de los libros olvidados #1) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon; translated by Lucia Graves
Published by The Penguin Press HC, 2004 (originally published 2001)
Hardcover, 487 pages
ISBN 1594200106
Genres: adult fiction, fantasy, gothic novel, historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery, philosophy, thriller

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Barcelona, 1945—just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.

My review: This novel is fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. I knew it would be one of this year's favorites before I was half-way through it. Between the fascinating story line, well-developed characters, and elegant style, The Shadow of the Wind is hard to compete with. What initially drew me in was discovering it is a book about books: a mysterious and secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books and a certain volume discovered within.  The main protagonist, Daniel, enthusiastically delves into this previously-forgotten novel and begins unraveling the mystery of its tormented author, leading to a years-long quest culminating in a stunning ending. This book is part adventure story, part mystery, part historical drama, part thriller, with a sprinkling of fantastical elements and philosophical questions. In addition, it is Daniel's coming-of-age story, bittersweet in that the reader re-experiences all of the doubts, questions and fears of growing up. It is, in my opinion, the perfect cross-genre piece.

The characters evolve and develop, becoming richer and more familiar the farther into the book the reader gets. They are unpredictable and so very human, each with their own temperaments, faults and dreams. I love that although Daniel is the main protagonist, the author has labored to make each and every character unique and indispensable to the plot. The cast of characters is pretty large, though instead of becoming a hindrance for the reader it simply makes the novel that much more enjoyable. Daniel is one of my favorite characters because he is compassionate, curious, and intelligent. Another favorite character would have to be Fermin, a man whom Daniel literally stumbles upon who has been living on the streets. He has an extremely shadowy past, more aliases than you can count, and a case of PTSD that would land a lesser man in a sanitarium (or worse); and yet, through it all, he has an indomitable spirit and an admirable code of honor.

This novel is set mainly in Barcelona, Spain with a small portion taking place in Paris, France. The imagery is incredible and it is obvious the author, who was born in Barcelona, is extremely knowledgeable about its geography. The streets of the two cities literally come alive and while I have always wanted to travel in Europe, my desire has rarely been stronger than while I was reading this novel. It was fascinating to read about life in Barcelona immediately following the Spanish Civil War: the still-apparent signs of destruction, the fragile state of politics on every level, the drudgery of a struggling economy, the deaths of loved ones still hanging in the air. The complexity and multi-faceted nature of The Shadow of the Wind is stunning.

I would strongly recommend reading this book; it is one I would love to own myself. I originally thought it was a stand-alone but am thrilled to report it is actually the first in a series! El cementerio de los libros olvidados (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books) series includes The Shadow of the Wind (#1), of course, The Angel's Game (#2), The Prisoner of Heaven (#3), and The Rose of Fire (#.5), the last being a short story available only in ebook form. I cannot wait to read and review the entire series, as well as Carlos Ruiz Zafon's other works.
Mary Beth


  1. I loved this novel, also El Juego del Angel by him (not sure what the translated title it).

    Hi! I saw your update on BookBlogs. I'm following now. Here is my link if you'd want to check out my blog :-)


    1. Hi Lectus! It is a wonderful book. So you've read the second in the series as well; I'm glad to hear a good report about it because I've never heard anything about the rest of the series.

      Thank you for stopping by I'm going to go check your blog out :)

  2. Yeah! I also read Marina. The thing is that in Spanish the book is soooo good because it is written in the Spanish dialect (from Spain) and I don't know if in English it would get the same meaning.

    1. I see. I was actually really impressed because while I have not read both the Spanish and the English versions of The Shadow of the Wind, the translation was so smooth and effortless you would never know it wasn't the original. Though as I said I haven't compared the two, so I don't know if there really are differences and I didn't notice them because I haven't read the Spanish version, lol. But translations are frequently a little awkward and you can get that feeling you're not reading what the author originally wrote. But with Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Lucia Graves, I didn't get that feeling at all.

  3. So thrilled to find a fellow book hoarder:) Immediately ordered this. Can't wait to start it.

    1. Hi Tricia! Haha, yes! I am trying to mend my ways but still have quite a collection :) Fantastic! I really, really hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It is one I would love to own and can definitely see myself re-reading in future.


I'd love to hear your thoughts!