The Shadow of the Wind (In the Cemetery of Forgotten Books 1) – By Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Translated by Lucia Graves. New York: Penguin Press, 2004
“Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.”
Young Daniel is told this on his tenth birthday when his father takes him to a Barcelona bookshop in 1945 to select a book. It is not just any ordinary bookshop: it is the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a depository for those books “no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands.” Daniel chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, and, like his father predicts, the story stays alive in him, sending him on a quest to uncover more writings by the mysterious author and to discover why a man who appears the reincarnation of the devil (his face a mask of black scarred skin with no nose, lips or eyelids) seeks to destroy every last copy.
Part gothic mystery, part coming of age, part tawdry love story, part snapshot on life in Spain during Franco’s rule – Zafon’s book has as many twists as the bookstore labyrinth where the story begins. Five years after first reading The Shadow of the Wind, Daniel tracks down different individuals who were connected to Carax before his disappearance, and supposed death, at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Each one – from his high school mates to his first love to his publisher and many others – give Daniel their own flawed version of Carax’s life story. Expect to be confused as red herrings and ‘double entendres’ abound.
Serving as the equivalent to Sancho Panza on Daniel’s quixotic quest is Fermin Romero de Torres, a former Republican agent now a homeless beggar whose knowledge of women, wine and the streets of Barcelona enable the pair to draw closer to answers. Meanwhile, Daniel’s own life takes on an eerie parallel to Carax’s story, especially when his investigation draws the attention of Fermin – the most sadistic and dogged police officer since Hugo’s Inspector Javert in Les Miserables.
At more than 500 pages, expect to find allusions to other stories of length written by the likes of Dickens, Eco, Twain, Cervantes and Bronte. In fact, part of the fun of reading The Shadow of the Wind is to recall the characters and plots of these other stories. And if the novel really hooks you, read the other two books in the series – The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven. But don’t expect to see any of these at the local cinema. Zafon swears he will not sell the rights for movie adaptations.
“A book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us,” Daniel learns. “When we read, we do it with our hearts and mind.”
My Wine Recommendation
Such a complex story demands a wine equal to the task. When considering a Spanish wine, look no further than Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva 2010. Aged in French oak barrels, it has flavors of black fruits, spices, especially vanilla, and chocolate. Its long dry finish will keep you sipping throughout your read and into your next book club discussion. $18.