Rated Reads

The Shadow of the Wind

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Rated: High

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.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for about 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

5 Responses to The Shadow of the Wind

  1. […] new novel, The Angel’s Game, is set in the same place as his previous novel, The Shadow of the Wind, and at a time just beforehand. It shares a few characters and familiar haunts, which is very […]

  2. […] with heat and foreboding. The story is engaging. After reading his two superb novels for adults, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, I had hoped for more in this young adult book, so I was a bit […]

  3. […] Carlos Ruiz Zafón has a third book coming in the “cycle of novels” that began with The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. Those two books were delightfully gothic and drew me in utterly to a […]

  4. […] Ruiz Zafón’s first book in his “cycle” of novels set in post-Spanish Civil War Barcelona, The Shadow of the Wind, absolutely took my breath away. I consider it a masterpiece of gothic literature. I was eager to […]

  5. […] The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I came across this a few years after reading The Thirteenth Tale, and I found this was probably came in right behind that in pure awe and satisfaction. Another masterpiece. Zafón has written two novels in a series after this, continuing and enlarging upon the story and the setting, and they’ve been pretty good, but honestly not the triumph that the first was. Again, the setting is the past, and the story is permeated with mystery hanging over it like a mist. The twist is great, I loved how it all came together, and the writing is superb. […]

  • The Shadow of the Wind
  • by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: