"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. 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 or forget—we will return."
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is without a doubt a mystery, part adventure story, certainly a coming-of-age, and has elements of a traditional gothic tale with smatterings of noir. You know, just a few things going on. Set in 1945 Barcelona, a young boy named Daniel chances upon a book titled The Shadow of the Wind (meta, amirite?) by Julian Carax. I think we've all had our lives changed by books and the internal shifts they cause in us like little earthquakes of our consciousness, but, while Daniel is moved by the prose of the book, what he experiences is of an altogether different sort. As Daniel searches for more works from Julian Carax, he realizes that someone has been destroying all of them, and that his copy of The Shadow of the Wind may be the very last. Intrigue ensues! Daniel finds himself exploring the streets of Barcelona for more information and begins to unravel a tale of love, betrayal, and murder that many are trying to keep hidden in the past...
“A secret's worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.”
This book was exactly what I needed it to be. That being said, it wasn't all-parts awesome. That's okay; that's a rare thing to achieve.
I found myself fairly immediately pulled into Daniel's quest and enamored with the ensemble cast of characters that come into and out of his orbit. (Fermín, I'm looking at you.) I'm also a sucker for a slowly revealed mystery, a little bit of romance, and books about books. And this is, more than anything else, a book about books, about our relationship to the written word and the power of stories, our own and others.
“As I walked in the dark through the tunnels and tunnels of books, I could not help being overcome by a sense of sadness. I couldn't help thinking that if I, by pure chance, had found a whole universe in a single unknown book, buried in that endless necropolis, tens of thousands more would remain unexplored, forgotten forever. I felt myself surrounded by millions of abandoned pages, by worlds and souls without an owner sinking in an ocean of darkness, while the world that throbbed outside the library seemed to be losing its memory, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wiser the more it forgot.”
I often think about the books I will never hear about, whether they have been lost to obscurity or were never translated into English, that could have fundamentally changed my life. I think this is the curse of every reader and we walk around haunted by all the books we haven't read despite the amount that we have. I think this book touches on that, often in more subtle ways than the aforementioned quote. The whole idea of attempting to destroy an author's entire catalogue of work does beg the question: what is an author if there's nothing of theirs to read? And what of those readers whose lives would have been enriched for the reading?
There were times when I recognized that the language was overtly sentimental, and I have some misgivings about the claim on the back cover likening Zafón to Márquez and Borges. It didn't have what I can only describe as the literariness of those two. I don't know that I expected it to, and maybe that makes it easier to forgive. What I do know is that I wanted a book to get lost in, to wrap me in its pages and show me an adventure that, much as I might wish for it, I will never have myself, and that is what I received from this read.
“After a while it occurred to me that between the covers of each of those books lay a boundless universe waiting to be discovered while beyond those walls, in the outside world, people allowed life to pass by in afternoons of football and radio soaps, content to do little more than gaze at their navels.”
And now there's an entire other boundless universe waiting for me in the next book in this series...