I 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.