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The Shadow Of The Wind (2005)

The Shadow of the Wind (2005)
4.22 of 5 Votes: 1
0143034901 (ISBN13: 9780143034902)
penguin books
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The Shadow Of The Wind (2005)
The Shadow Of The Wind (2005)

About book: "Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you."Well, I wonder then what part of me I saw inside this book - a book I adored despite its imperfections, despite its frequent veering into melodrama, despite (or maybe because of?) its densely Gothic atmosphere. Whatever it was, it was enough to make me lose myself completely in the rich setting of mid-20th century Barcelona, in the world of seductive dangerous power of literature and perils and passions of young love, and the contrasts of idealistic innocence with the weariness of experience, all against the rich tapestry of the city full of beauty and secrets and vividness, all told in a lavish idiomatic language that makes you forget you're reading a translation. And over all of this gothic surreal passion turned into words hangs a real grim presence of those in power who can come after you whenever they please, and who will try to silence you whenever they feel like it. "I told her how until that moment I had not understood that this was a story about lonely people, about absence and loss, and that that was why I had taken refuge in it until it became confused with my own life, like someone who has escaped into the pages of a novel because those whom he needs to love seem nothing more than ghosts inhabiting the mind of a stranger."This is really a story within a story. Narrated by a young Daniel Sempere, it chronicles his transformation from a child to a young man in a Francoist post-war Spain, his loves and obsessions, his brushes with the world of mysteries and reality - both of these worlds equally dangerous and fascinating. But Daniel is really a medium through which we learn the heart and soul of this book - the story of Julián Carax, a man who wrote a book that finds its way into Daniel's life, a man whose past and present shape the course of all the events in this narrative, Julián Carax who seems to be the embodiment of both driving force and destructive force in the pages of this novel. “There are few reasons for telling the truth, but for lying the number is infinite.”This book left me in an enchanted daze, and I'm still struggling to figure out why or how. What was it exactly that made it so easy for me to overlook the imperfections and blemishes of this story - the not-uncommon sexist male gaze, the telenovela-like melodramatic developments, the sometimes strange choices of inserting exposition into the narrative flow. "A story is a letter that the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise."And the only answers I can find are these - it was the fantastic engrossing atmosphere and the sincere unabashed love of literature, combined with the language that sings to you in all its exuberant beauty.The atmosphere is built on a classic Gothic setting. The foreboding darkness haunts the story, complete with foreshadowings, strange haunted old mansions, dark secrets waiting to be unearthed, feverish passions and dark past tormenting the characters, emotional epistolary confessions, menacing villains, and dark stormy nights in abundance. Shadows are everywhere, and things lurk in them, be sure of that. And destiny seems to reach in with its meddling hand and place things in necessary to it order. And the tortured, passionate love stories - oh yes, they are here, too. "Memories are worse than bullets.”And yet the framing setting of 1950s grounds the Gothic atmosphere, forces it into reality. And the pervasive sharp humor makes the story quite self-aware of its own stylized nature, making the elements that can easily turn annoying into fascinating bits instead. "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 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, a son of a bookshop owner, has a special connection with books - after all, he was introduced by his father to the mysterious place known as Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a place in the heart of Barcelona where abandoned books are stored, a place from where he is allowed to 'adopt' a book - and what calls to him is the book by an obscure writer Julián Carax, a Barcelonian himself, a man long-dead, a man whose remaining books are hunted and burned by a mysterious stranger. "I began to believe that Julián was not a man, he was an illness."It's Julián Carax, his elusive past and present, the enigma that surrounds the man and is impossible for Daniel to resist that form the cornerstone, the centerpiece of this novel. Julián, a tragic hero of the Gothic novel, whose life and character are slowly revealed bit by bit, until you realize you are just as enchanted with him as the people who have met him seem to be - and all that without Julián ever making an appearance himself. And by the time we see the warning signs of Julián's single-minded destructive obsession, it is too late to turn back, and we begin to understand the strange obsession with him that more than one character carries. "There are worse prisons than words."This book is an example of the journey, not the destination. The plot twists are not pivotal. The reveals that come are not that important, and there are plenty of clues for the reader to come to the conclusions well before they are revealed. What is important, however, is allowing yourself to step into the world Zafón creates, into the early- and mid-century Barcelona, under the shadow of gothic buildings, into the world that no longer exists.Lovely, lovely book; not perfect but engrossing and beautiful, and well-deserving of the attention it has received. Reading it is a quite an experience. 4 stars. "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."

"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 and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down the pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though. When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands."That's one of the characters in the story describing the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. If you read that description and rolled your eyes, you may go. There's nothing here for you. If, however, you read that and thought that you would give your left foot for the chance to visit that place in real life, you may continue.In Barcelona in 1945, ten-year-old Daniel Sempere's father brings him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and tells him to choose one book to adopt. The one Daniel chooses is called The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. Daniel reads the book, falls in love with it, and tries to find more works by the author. He then makes a strange discovery: someone has been hunting down copies of every Carax novel in existence and burning them - Daniel owns what is perhaps the last Carax novel in the world. We fast-forward seven years, and someone comes looking for Daniel's copy of The Shadow of the Wind. Daniel, assisted by his friend Fermin (a homeless former spy who is also one of the best people on the planet), begins tracking down everyone who knew Carax before his death in 1935 and trying to figure out who wants to destroy his books. As he learns more about Carax's life, Daniel's own life begins to mirror the author's, and he has to find out what happened to the author before Carax's enemies track him down.It's Gothic as all get-out, with abandoned mansions (the grounds of which include dismantled angel statues - don't blink), curses, explosive secrets, conspiracies, evil policemen, plots, and general skullduggery. The ideal time to read this is during a thunderstorm, preferably by candlelight.The book is flawed, I admit that freely. The prose is a little too invested in the Gothic mood and ranges from melodramatic ("...I now imagined Nuria Monfort sitting alone, silently tidying up her pencils, her folders, and her memories, her eyes poisoned with tears.") to hysterical (as when the narrator informs the reader, in all caps, "IN SEVEN DAYS' TIME, I WOULD BE DEAD.") Similarly, the characters, while all entertaining and fully realized, don't vary much. The men can all be divided into two camps: the intelligent, noble, soft-spoken good guys; and the psychotic bullies. (and all the good guys love reading, and all the bad guys hate books - I know this because Zafon makes it a point of telling us) As for the women, they're all either dangerous femme fatales or innocent beautiful snowflake objects (emphasis on objects) of male worship who are the source of most conflict between the male characters, and as soon as they have sex with someone everything goes to shit. The Virgin/Whore dichotomy here is so extreme you can snowboard through it. Also, a lot of the important stuff is revealed through overly long self-indulgent flashbacks (written in italics, natch) and the book ends about five chapters too late.I acknowledge these faults, and I do not care. And this is because, once you get past the spooky shadow puppets Zafon is creating, you can see that this book (despite its melodrama and unrealistic aspects) is, at its core, a love letter to books and the art of reading. Remember the Cemetery of Forgotten Books? Its whole purpose is to make sure that no book, no matter how insignificant, is never forgotten and never lost. It's no accident that Daniel's father owns a bookshop, and that all the good characters in this story, as I mentioned, love to read. And Daniel's whole motivation for investigating Carax's life is that he loved The Shadow of the Wind so much that he couldn't let it go. The book becomes more than a book for Daniel, because it's the first book he read that felt like it was his, and his alone. We all know that feeling - you find a book, and something about it makes you feel like you're the only person in history who has ever read it. The book belongs to you just as much as you belong to it, and it never leaves you. That is the motivation behind The Shadow of the Wind - the love of books, and how they change our lives. All the Gothic adventure stuff is just the icing on the cake.
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It's been a couple years since I read this book so I shouldn't and won't go into details, but the effect has lingered all this time. There's no other book I'm quicker to recommend than this one. It's not that it's particularly important in a lot of the ways "important" books are, it's just that it works as pure reading pleasure (and sometimes, isn't that enough?); so I find reviews from people desperate to discover structural flaws and stylistic cliches to be totally missing the point. Buy it new, breathe in the perfume of those pages, tell your friends and family you're going to be busy for a few days and disappear into it.
This novel begins with a visit to an amazingly evocative location. A father takes his ten-year-old son Daniel to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a secret labyrinth visited and maintained by Barcelona’s second-hand booksellers. Daniel must choose a book to treasure and keep with him all his life. He chooses a novel written by Julián Carax, an author who has disappeared and whose books have been sought out and destroyed by a strange, shadowy figure named after a character from one of Carax's novels - a character who represents the devil. Thus begins a tale of intrigue, love, hate and most of all, obsession.There is so much I love about this work. In many ways it reads like a Victorian sensationalist novel: lots and lots of words, multiple twists and turns in the plot, strange characters, mystery, suspense, gothic elements, melodrama and sentimentality. There are some wonderful characters, in particular Fermin Romero de Torres, whose humour, loyalty, intelligence, resourcefulness and ability to come up with snappy one-liners for every occasion made me fall in love with him. The novel is full of quotable quotes, especially about books and reading. In addition, Zafón gives the novel a great sense of time and place. I’ve never been to Barcelona, but I felt like I was right there during the dark days of the Civil War and during the time of the fascist regime which followed, walking its streets, meeting its people, smelling its smells and seeing its sights. The novel has some weaknesses. Some of the mystery was predictable and I worked out a couple of the major plot points before the big reveal. Not all of them though; so that while I could see where the narrative was heading at about the half way point, I didn’t predict exactly how it was going to be resolved. In addition, part of the narrative (which is developed from the point of view of a number of different characters) is in the form of a very long letter written by one character to another. This section is almost all exposition and, while it advances the narrative, it is less compelling than other parts of the novel. In addition, a few of the things the writer of the letter discloses seem to be beyond what the writer could have known, which is a little jarring. Making up for any weaknesses in the middle section of the novel is a truly page-turning final section and a very satisfying ending. Or at least, it wasn’t literally a page-turning final section for me, as I listened to the audiobook edition of the novel. However, it made for totally compelling listening. The narration, by Daniel Philpott, is excellent. The translation, by Lucia Graves, is also excellent. At any rate, I presume it’s an excellent translation, as there was no point at which this felt like a novel which had not been originally written in clear, idiomatic English. As noted above, this novel starts with a visit to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. I feel like I have a Cemetery of Forgotten Books in my home. Although I obtained the audiobook to listen to relatively recently, I found the paperback version of this novel on a bookshelf in my bedroom a few weeks ago. It has clearly been there for some time, as the sticker on the back indicates that it was bought at Dubai Airport. If it was purchased by me – and I have no memory of having done so – then that would have happened in 2004, as I haven’t been to Dubai Airport since then. It may have been purchased by someone else and given to me, but I also have no memory of that occurring. Regardless of how I obtained it, I’m very glad I decided to pick up this novel from my Cemetery of Forgotten Books. I’m going to remember it for a long time. This gets 4 ½ stars for now, just because there are a few weaknesses in the writing. However, if the characters hang around in my head the way I think they might, that could change to 5 stars. Highly recommended, but only for readers who like lots of words and who can cope with over-the-top melodrama.
Monique Gerken
This is my favorite book of all time! It is my goal in life to have everyone read this. There wasn't a dull moment and it keeps you guessing. "The time is the 1950s; the place, Barcelona. Daniel Sempere, the son of a widowed bookstore owner, is 10 when he discovers a novel, The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax. The novel is rare, the author obscure, and rumors tell of a horribly disfigured man who has been burning every copy he can find of Carax's novels. The man calls himself Laín Coubert-the name of the devil in one of Carax's novels. As he grows up, Daniel's fascination with the mysterious Carax links him to a blind femme fatale with a "porcelain gaze," Clara Barceló; another fan, a leftist jack-of-all-trades, Fermín Romero de Torres; his best friend's sister, the delectable Beatriz Aguilar; and, as he begins investigating the life and death of Carax, a cast of characters with secrets to hide. Officially, Carax's dead body was dumped in an alley in 1936. But discrepancies in this story surface. Meanwhile, Daniel and Fermín are being harried by a sadistic policeman, Carax's childhood friend. As Daniel's quest continues, frightening parallels between his own life and Carax's begin to emerge. Ruiz Zafón strives for a literary tone, and no scene goes by without its complement of florid, cute and inexact similes and metaphors (snow is "God's dandruff"; servants obey orders with "the efficiency and submissiveness of a body of well-trained insects"). Yet the colorful cast of characters, the gothic turns and the straining for effect only give the book the feel of para-literature or the Hollywood version of a great 19th-century novel."
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