In 1945, in the shadow of the civil war that has torn apart the city of Barcelona, a young boy discovers a book that utterly captures him. The novel is hidden in the depths of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, to which his father, a bookseller, introduces him. He is told that as part of the bargain of being able to visit this cavernous and labyrinthine depository, he must “adopt” one book and “make sure it never disappears.” He has no idea to what lengths this oath will take him, how it will put him in danger, and how it will alter the course of his life.
Daniel Sempere soon finds that he owns the only copy in existence of The Shadow of the Wind, by a man named Julián Carax. Carax has been considered dead for some years, and it is said that all copies of his books (which had small print runs and scant success in the first place) have been hunted down by a mysterious man and burned. He commits himself to finding out what happened to Carax and why, even after the faceless man visits Daniel a few years later and threatens him if he doesn’t give up the book.
Throughout the novel, Daniel’s story intertwines with the story of Julián Carax, which Daniel pieces together slowly over the years of his adolescence. He encounters an evil police inspector who has some odd interest in Daniel’s search and in some of the characters who come to people it; one of these characters ends up helping his father in his work in the bookshop and, more importantly, becoming a close friend and ally in solving the Carax mystery.
Carax had been haunted by a doomed love, and Daniel comes to empathize as he encounters two young women who haunt his every thought, one in his earlier years and one later on. The agonies of first unattainable and then forbidden loves suffuse his life with longing.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s novel is utterly enthralling. Just as Daniel is held in thrall to the story of the novel he finds in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, the reader of Zafón’s novel is similarly bound, completely absorbed by the enfolding tale. Once the novel is opened, the mists swirling around the stories that remind the reader of a “Russian doll that contains innumerable ever-smaller dolls within” (as Daniel describes The Shadow of the Wind) seep out of the book and hover, casting a spell, until the reader has devoured the very last page.
The Shadow of the Wind brilliantly and readily joins the classics of gothic literature.
Rated: High for language and some sexual material. Vulgarity includes 10 occasions of very strong language, about 30 instances of moderate language, and about 10 uses of mild language. Sexuality includes several fairly brief scenes with mild to moderate detail.