The Shadow of the Wind  

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"I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time." --The Shadow of the Wind (2001) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, incipit


"Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Umberto Eco meets Jorge Luis Borges for a sprawling magic show." --The New York Times Book Review


“The man called Isaac nodded and invited us in. A blue-tinted gloom obscured the sinuous contours of a marble staircase and a gallery of frescoes peopled with angels and fabulous creatures. We followed our host through a palatial corridor and arrived at a sprawling round hall, a virtual basilica of shadows spiraling up under a high glass dome, its dimness pierced by shafts of light that stabbed from above. A labyrinth of passageways and crammed bookshelves rose from base to pinnacle like a beehive woven with tunnels, steps, platforms, and bridges that presaged an immense library of seemingly impossible geometry. I looked at my father, stunned. He smiled at me and winked.

“Welcome to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, Daniel.”

--The Shadow of the Wind (2001) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

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The Shadow of the Wind (2001 La sombra del viento) is a Spanish novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and a worldwide bestseller, the most successful novel in Spanish publishing history after Don Quixote.

Catalan nationalists strongly took issue with Zafón for having written it in Spanish rather than Catalan.

Contents

Plot summary

The novel, set in post- Spanish Civil War Barcelona, concerns a young boy, Daniel. Just after the war, Daniel's father takes him to the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a huge library of old, forgotten titles lovingly preserved by a select few initiates. According to tradition, everyone initiated to this secret place is allowed to take one book from it, and must protect it for life. Daniel selects a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. That night he takes the book home and reads it, completely engrossed. Daniel then attempts to look for other books by this unknown author, but can find none. All he comes across are stories of a strange man - calling himself Laín Coubert, after a character in the book who happens to be the Devil - who has been seeking out Carax's books for decades, buying them all and burning them. In time this mysterious figure confronts and threatens Daniel. Terrified, Daniel returns the book to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books but continues to seek out the story of the elusive author. In doing so Daniel becomes entangled in an age old conflict that began with the author himself. Many parallels are found to exist between the author's life and Daniel's and he takes it upon himself to make sure history does not repeat.

Characters

  • Daniel Sempere - The main character of the story. Son of a bookshop owner. After visiting the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and picking out 'The Shadow of the Wind' by Julián Carax, Daniel learns that he should treasure this book because a mysterious figure has been searching for all of Carax's books, and subsequently burning them. After reading the book Daniel becomes obsessed with its elusive author. What he doesn't realize is that there's more to the story than he could ever dream.
  • Tomás Aguilar - Best friend of Daniel Sempere. Tough and strong, very protective of his sister Bea, and also a rather intelligent inventor.
  • Fermín Romero de Torres - Sidekick, friend, and mentor of Daniel Sempere. After some hard times and several years on the streets, he is assisted by Daniel and Daniel's father, who give him an apartment and a job at the bookshop.
  • Beatriz Aguilar - Love interest of Daniel Sempere and sister of Tomás. A very pretty young woman, Bea is still in school. It is due to her that Daniel and Tomás became friends in the first place because, when the two were schoolboys, Daniel made a joke about Bea that made Tomás start a fight with him. After the blood had dried, they became the best of friends. Bea's father and brother are very protective of her and she has been for several years engaged to marry an army officer, a staunch upholder of the Franco dictatorship.
  • Clara Barceló - Love interest of Daniel Sempere and niece of the wealthy Mr. Barceló. She is blind and also very beautiful. For several years, Daniel comes to her uncle's house to sit and read with her. He develops a schoolboy crush on her even though she is ten years his senior, but tries to forget her once he discovers her affair with her piano instructor.
  • Julián Carax - The author of "The Shadow of the Wind". Daniel desperately seeks to find out the truth about this mysterious man: the reasons for his journeys, the truth about his childhood, and the explanation for why his books are all being destroyed.
  • Francisco Javier Fumero - An odd schoolboy friend of Julián Carax who grows up to be a corrupt and murderous police inspector.
  • Miquel Moliner - A schoolboy friend of Julián Carax, fun-loving and loyal, very wealthy. So much so, in fact, that he sacrifices his own life for Julián's.
  • Father Fernando Ramos - A schoolboy friend of Julián Carax who later becomes a priest at their old school. He assists Daniel in his quest for the truth about Julián.
  • Jorge Aldaya - A schoolboy friend of Julián Carax, sometimes rather moody, very wealthy.
  • Penélope Aldaya - Love interest of both Julián Carax and Javier Fumero and a sister of Jorge(and also unknowingly half sister to Julián). Very pretty, sweet, and wealthy; she becomes pregnant by Julián but dies in childbirth along with the baby. Her memory continues to haunt Julian.
  • Jacinta Coronado - The devoted former governess of Penélope Aldaya, now living in a retirement home, who helps Daniel in his quest.
  • Nuria Monfort - An intelligent, 'femme fatale' who worked at the publishing house where Julián's books were published. She also conducted an affair with Julián while he lived in Paris, and although she falls deeply in love with him he does not reciprocate. Daniel goes to visit her for more information on Julián but later realizes that she fed him lies to protect Julián. She is also the daughter of Mr. Monfort, who holds the keys to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where Daniel found "The Shadow of the Wind".

The Civil War and Franco Dictatorship

The Spanish Civil War forms much of the background for the book, as a still fresh traumatic memory, and there are many extensive flashbacks to that period. The book presents positively the Generalitat - the autonomous Catalan authority which (partially) administered Barcelona during the Civil War and was brutally suppressed after Franco's victory, and whose executed leader Companys is revered by Catalans as a hero and martyr. Daniel's friend Fermín Romero de Torres, among the book's most sympathetic characters, is mentioned as having been a senior secret agent for the Generalitat and having been horribly tortured and persecuted for it after the fall of Barcelona in 1939.

In contrast, the Anarchist movement FAI - which, among others, had won George Orwell's approval and warm admiration in his classic "Homage to Catalonia" - is here consistently presented in a very negative light. "The Anarchists, the Communists and the Fascists" are repeatedly mentioned as essentially three gangs of murderous thugs of whom there was no essential difference - symbolized by the fact that the psychopathic Fumero continually flirted with all three, ever ready to throw his lot with whoever came on top.

The present time of the book's plot is entirely under the Franco dictatorship. There is the ever-present shadow of the sinister Inspector Fumero - whose acts of torture and murder are, however, presented as deriving from a personal insanity more than from official ideology or policy. The mass extrajudicial executions in the immediate aftermath of Franco's victory are still remembered with a shudder, and in the Barcelona depicted, a person arbitrarily beaten up by police has no legal recourse. Nevertheless, most people live their ordinary lives, much as people do everywhere, and there is no general atmosphere of terror.

In fact, people often regard the regime with contempt rather than fear, and many of the quotations of official propaganda are clearly intended as satire ("A book attributed to a disciple of Darwin, showing that Spaniards are evolved from a more developed type of simian than the French"). Adherents of the regime, such as Beatriz's intended the military officer or the vain Professor Velasquez, are presented as ridiculous buffoons. One passage mentions a scrawled graffiti reading "Fascist Dickheads".

It is mentioned that that publication of leaflets for the clandestine metal-workers' trade union could lead one to years behind bars. Yet in another place a taxi driver is mentioned as outspokenly proclaiming to casual passengers his Communist sympathies - specifically his admiration for Stalin as well as for La Pasionaria - with no evident sign of apprehension.

Absent is any reference to the Franco regime's efforts to suppress the Catalan language, as it did towards other non-Castilian languages throughout Spain. In the circumstances described, police and avowed adherents of the regime can be assumed to speak Spanish invariably; Fermín, an outspoken dissident with ties to the suppressed Catalan government, might be expected to be often speaking Catalan; and other characters might switch between the two languages according to circumstances. As mentioned, however, the book - originally written in proper Spanish - makes no reference at all to this issue.

In the depiction of the police there is quite literally a Good cop/Bad cop opposition, with the satanic, psychopathic Inspector Fumero contrasted to Officer Palacios, who is revealed towards the end to be quite decent and well-meaning. Following Fumero's death at the book's climatic scene, the clouds seem to disperse and the book moves smoothly towards a happy ending - symbolizing Spain's smooth transition to democracy following Franco's death in 1975. (The writer personally experienced that key event at the age of 11 - which is the narrator's age in the book's opening chapter.)

Critical reception

  • Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A): "While it's difficult to categorize this mystery/romance/thriller/period epic, there is no question that Wind is wondrous. Set in post-WWII Barcelona, the novel opens with a man initiating his young son, Daniel, into the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where lost tomes wait to be rediscovered. Daniel chooses a novel called The Shadow of the Wind and becomes obsessed with the author, whose tragic and drama-filled story unfolds, interlaced with Daniel's own tragic and drama-filled life. There are places in which Wind might seem a little over-the-top (doomed love, gruesome murders) but for Zafon's masterful, meticulous plotting and extraordinary control over language (originally written in Spanish, it has been translated by Lucia Graves, daughter of the poet Robert). While managing to hit just about every genre, The Shadow of the Wind is ultimately a love letter to literature, intended for readers as passionate about storytelling as its young hero."

See also

fiction set in Barcelona, Spanish literature, worldwide bestseller, Library of Babel




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