Barcelona, 1945—just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.
As with all astounding novels, The Shadow of the Wind sends the mind groping for comparisons —The Crimson Petal and the White? The novels of Arturo Pérez-Reverte? Of Victor Hugo? Love in the Time of Cholera?—but in the end, as with all astounding novels, no comparison can suffice. As one leading Spanish reviewer wrote, “The originality of Ruiz Zafón’s voice is bombproof and displays a diabolical talent. The Shadow of the Wind announces a phenomenon in Spanish literature.” An uncannily absorbing historical mystery, a heart-piercing romance, and a moving homage to the mystical power of books, The Shadow of the Wind is a triumph of the storyteller’s art.
Call it the “book book” genre: this international sensation (it has sold in more than 20 countries and been number one on the Spanish best-seller list), newly translated into English, has books and storytelling–and a single, physical book–at its heart. In post-World War II Barcelona, young Daniel is taken by his bookseller father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a massive sanctuary where books are guarded from oblivion. Told to choose one book to protect, he selects The Shadow of the Wind, by Julian Carax. He reads it, loves it, and soon learns it is both very valuable and very much in danger because someone is determinedly burning every copy of every book written by the obscure Carax. To call this book–Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind— old-fashioned is to mean it in the best way. It’s big, chock-full of unusual characters, and strong in its sense of place. Daniel’s initiation into the mysteries of adulthood is given the same weight as the mystery of the book-burner. And the setting–Spain under Franco–injects an air of sobriety into some plot elements that might otherwise seem soap operatic. Part detective story, part boy’s adventure, part romance, fantasy, and gothic horror, the intricate plot is urged on by extravagant foreshadowing and nail-nibbling tension. This is rich, lavish storytelling, very much in the tradition of Ross King’s Ex Libris (2001). Keir Graff