Monthly Archives: January 2012

Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Hi! HI! Hi! This morning, because I needed to WAKE UP, I decided to forgo my usual espresso and take a caffeine pill instead. The package claimed that one caffeine pill=one cup of coffee. They must have meant this cup:


Anyway, I feel like I'm on speed. In the minute since I published this I've found no less than 5 typos. So the lesson is: don't take a whole caffeine pill. Maybe take half and see how it goes. I guess I should have known. Saved by the Bell totally tried to warn me.

Moving right along (because I can't stop moving)…

Shadow of the Wind

To borrow a ratings structure from Reading Matters, I'd give The Shadow of the Wind 3 out of 5 stars…it is (very much) a good read. If it sometimes seems a little amateurish, the kind of book that just barely holds together, it more than makes up for it in terms of sheer verve. Zafon is an ambitious, imaginative writer, and if his Gothic sensibility, his rather adolescent views on love, and his linguistic acrobatics sometimes are more of a negative than a positive, well, you didn't want to read another book about middle-class midwesterners experiencing spiritual malaise anyway, did you?

The Shadow of the Wind is set in Barcelona in the forties and fifties: a bleak place, ravaged by the Spanish Civil War, which is an enduring darkness in the background of the story. It's a story about a boy who finds a book called (eponymously) The Shadow of the Wind in a mysterious library called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. One of the rules of the cemetery is that the first time you go there, you pick out a book that becomes yours forever: it's your job not to forget it. The copy of The Shadow of the Wind that Daniel (that's the boy, our narrrator) finds turns out to be extra-special, because it's the only existing copy. It was written by a man called Julian Carax, who may or may not be dead. In any case, someone has definitely been going around burning his books. Why this should be is the first mystery Daniel encounters, and it leads him to unravel the larger mystery of Carax's tragic life and possible death. The more Daniel learns about Carax over several years (he's an adult by the time we get to the meat of the story), the more the two men's lives come to resemble each other. Zafon's book is a lot about loving books, and about how they come to shape our lives in both abstract and concrete ways. It sounds pretty great, doesn't it? It is.

What I didn't love about the book: the characters can be a little one-note, especially the women, who have little to do aside from love and be loved. No one seems to have any serious ambition aside from the single, consuming romantic passion. And once you go evil, there's nothing about you that can be redeemed. Technically speaking, Zafon often has a character gives us some information that, though relevant, the character shouldn't or couldn't know. The supernatural explanations for some of the plot points struck me as a little lazy (I mean, a Cemetery of Forgotten Books? How? Why?). His metaphors are just awful (maybe it's the translation?). Like a fat man in a tutu dancing in an otherwise normal performance of Swan Lake. See what I did there?    

Still, I had a hard time putting it down once I got over the little flaws I mention above. I'm excited to see what Zafon does next.