Spanish Gothic

h1 August 29th, 2006 by eisha

Shadow of the WindI finished a book today that I’ve been trying to read, on and off, for about a year. A friend at work recommended it to me last year, and unfortunately the first time I started it coincided with my Collection Development class, which didn’t leave a lot of time for recreational reading. Then there was my Cataloging class, a huge bibliography I had to help compile for my library’s Summer Reading Program, etc…. and somehow this one kept being shoved to the bottom of the pile. But I finally got to page 487 today, and even though it’s not the sort of book I usually read, I am glad I gave it a chance.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (translated by Lucia Graves) is set in Barcelona in the 1940s and ’50s, as the country heals from its bloody Civil War. After the death of his mother, 10-year-old Daniel Sempere is taken by his bookseller father to a secret and unique place, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Daniel is allowed to choose a book, any one he likes, to take home with him and become its guardian. By chance, he chooses a novel called Shadow of the Wind, by an obscure Spanish/French author named Julian Carax. Daniel reads it in one sitting, and is so enthralled by the story that he immediately sets out to find more about the author and his works. And there Daniel stumbles upon a mystery – Carax died under very strange circumstances, and all copies of his books have been systematically purchased (or stolen) and destroyed by a disfigured man who goes by the name of one of Carax’s characters. As Daniel grows up, he continues his quest, and the more he learns the stranger the story gets, and the more dangerous the truth becomes to Daniel and those he loves.

From the jacket blurb, it sounds as though this book was Spain’s Da Vinci Code. It’s a literary gothic mystery/romance with noir overtones, and that’s what I mean when I say it’s not the sort of book I usually read – I don’t often read the sort of books that make it to the best-seller lists. But I do think this one is a cut above your basic romantic mystery. The writing is good (if a little overdone – but it’s a translation so one must make allowances) – there’s some very strong imagery, and some great humor. There’s a lot of affection for books and book-lovers. Although there are a few stock characters, they’re given an unusual amount of background treatment to explain how they got to where they are. And there’s a lot of historical detail about the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath, which was a total revelation for me, with my standard-American-public-school education. The plot is very twisty-turny, and I had no idea where the story was going to go from one chapter to the next.

To sum up: if you’re looking for something not-too-heavy but not a cookie-cutter best-seller… something compelling enough to keep you turning pages past your bedtime, especially maybe on a late fall/early winter evening, when it’s a little foggy out… something a little spooky, a little dark… then give Shadow a try.

12 comments to “Spanish Gothic”

  1. That sounds interesting. Thanks….Did it come out last year when you started it, or is it older?

    Part of the novel’s description made me think of Nicole Krauss’ “The History of Love,” which is a book I would recommend with such enthusiasm and with absolutely no hesitation to anyone. In fact, eisha, haven’t I been bugging you to read it? I’ll have to do something irritating like send you an email-a-day until you do. You’d really like it, I think (and I have to thank Tena L. for telling ME about it — must give credit where credit is due).

  2. I enjoyed this book a lot, although I know people who went batty over it. I think it might have to do with the zealous love that some people have for “books about books.” If you’re one of those (and you know who you are), you’ll absolutely love this book.

  3. Yeah, the book culture is a big part of the appeal – most of the major characters are involved with books – writers, publishers, translators, rare book sellers, students…

    and to answer julie’s question, it came out in the u.s. in 2004. not sure about spain, but the flap copy says it spent a year on the bestseller list there, so probably 2002 or so.

    yes, i do believe i’ve heard you mention “history of love” before. but right now i’m reading this thing called “where the red fern grows”…

  4. i know this thread could go on forever, too, but let me throw out that another really great book about books — well, in this case, a book about literature — is Martha Cooley’s ‘The Archivist’ (’99 publication date, i think). if you like T.S. Eliot, this book is for you.

    speaking of Eliot, for some reason the other day my husband was remembering a great moment from a ‘Simpsons’ episode in which Lisa attends a poetry slam-type thing, and the guy testing out the mics — instead of saying ‘testing, one, two, three, testing one, two, three’ — says “april is the cruellest month, april is the cruellest month” in the mic. gotta love matt groening.

  5. i should clarify that comment (“in this case, a book about literature”) — that meant that in ‘The Archivist,’ they’re dealing with letters from Eliot to a woman (forget her name), and it’s more about those letters and Eliot’s life than about his books per se….

    eisha, how goes ‘red fern’? you don’t have to answer, but let me say that if you don’t enjoy it and stop reading, i suggest you go with ‘Holes’ (only if you wanna read it), since you said you hadn’t read that one…..


  6. hey, i read that too! don’t remember too much, but… the archivist guy’s wife also had a thing about jazz, right? am i remembering the right book?

  7. yep. and she was a poet who you find out committed suicide (not a spoiler)….and the grad student who wants to read the correspondence between Eliot and a woman named Emily Hale….ringing a bell? good book, and Cooley’s first one, right? i wonder what she’s written since….– jules

  8. Weird. One of my favorite patrons bugged me to read this book just yesterday. I had been meaning to read it for a while now.

    Also, Julie, I LOVED The History of Love. Loved it!!!! Eisha, you must read it!

  9. well, that settles it. it’s officially on the list. thanks for the rec, laila!

  10. eisha, just drop ‘red fern’ if you have to in order to read ‘the history of love’….’cause it’s one of the best books i’ve read in a long, long time, AND i just started ‘red fern’ and am having trouble picking it back up, and, yes, i only read the first chapter, so if you’re in the same boat, you can drop it and not ruin The Challenge. i have another good fiction book going, and i’m sorry, but lou rawls or whoever wrote ‘fern’ just didn’t grab my attention right away. but i digress, and i need to keep givin’ it a shot, i guess. anyway, eisha, if you read krauss’ book, maybe you can review so that all the rest of the world (’cause you know they all read our blog) will read it, too. — jules

  11. thanks for the permission. i was waiting to get your reaction before i said so, but i’m well into “red fern” and i don’t think it gets better. it’s like if your grandfather is telling you a story about growing up, and it’s interesting and charming because it’s your grandfather, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world needs to hear it. and *whew*, as the psychologically-scarred, vegetarian-from-a-family-of-hunters, the animal trapping scenes are hard to read. i can’t believe people complain that kids’ books are more violent today… i don’t think anyone ever clubbed a raccoon to death in a todd strasser novel.

    but, since you’ve already read “history of love,” why don’t you review it, dude? you practically have already… just tell us what it’s about!

  12. i can’t review it, ’cause i suffer from this affliction of not being able to remember much about a book after reading it, even if i loved it. really, one day can pass, and i’m a goner. i mean, i can tell you *why* i loved it and a bit about the characters and style and such — and the book’s verisimilitude. (god, that sounds pretentious, but it’s true). i like to review ’em fresh ….so, if you read it and are up to it, you have my permission, so to speak, to review it. in fact, i’d love that.

    enough about that book. i sound like nicole krauss is payin’ me to rave about it.

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