The Shadow of the Wind
By Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Illustrated edition, Weidenfeld &
Nicolson, London, 2005
'Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later – no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn to forget – we will return.'
The story begins in the early summer of 1945 in Barcelona, in the wake of the Spanish Civil War, when ten-year-old Daniel Sempere is taken to the ancient, cavernous Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time by his antiquarian bookseller father. From the hundreds of thousands of books contained within the endless corridors of the labyrinthine bibliographic mausoleum, Daniel must choose one book to adopt; he will, he is told, be that book's guardian for the rest of his life. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind by an obscure Spanish novelist called Julián Carax - a choice that will change his life forever.
Captivated by the book, Daniel becomes intrigued by its enigmatic author. Over the years that follow, as he grows from a young boy into an awkward adolescent, he uncovers various clues about Carax and attempts to build a picture of the man. He is told that Carax was killed in Barcelona at the beginning of the civil war and discovers that his is the only surviving copy of The Shadow of the Wind; a sinister, faceless character who smells of burned paper and calls himself Laín Coubert, the name of a character created by Carax, has been going around burning every book by Carax that he can find and Daniel's copy survived only because it had been kept safe in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
With the help of his frequently entertaining sidekick Fermín Romero de Torres (a man with secrets of his own), Daniel begins to piece together the truth about the tragic events of Julián Carax's life, events which appear unnervingly similar to those taking place in his own life. In the process, he stirs up emotions amongst those who once knew Carax and attracts the decidedly dangerous attention of the vengeful and sadistic police inspector (and ex-Francoist torturer and assassin) Francisco Javier Fumero, whose quest for vengeance threatens the lives of Daniel and those close to him.
It's difficult to go into any further detail without giving too much away, so I won't. What I will say is that this is a fabulous, captivating book; a book about books, which is the very best kind of book for a bibliophile like me. There are plot twists and turns aplenty; there are characters to love and hate, and there is tragedy, romance and humour (especially when Fermín Romero de Torres is about). Once I began reading, I really didn't want to stop. So, as this truly is an outstanding book, I'm giving it five gold stars.