Book Review: Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

What you are about to read below is probably less review than it is pure gushing, because (I believe) when any reader encounters the kind of book that is in itself a book that will change the way that reader thinks, it's hard to provide any kind of unbiased analysis of it. Read on at your own peril. For the most part, I'll try to let the book speak for itself.
"This is a world of shadows...and magic is a rare asset. That book taught me that by reading, I could live more intensely." (27)
Have you ever come across a book that calls to you from the shelves for no apparent reason? The kind of book that you read once, and know it will change your thinking, your perspective, your reading habits? And then you read again and again and again, revisiting its pages, its characters, stories, triumphs, failures, details, beauty, words?

The Shadow of the Wind is a book about just such a book. It is also such a book in its own right. Perhaps that was Zafon's intention - after all, every author must strive to make his work powerful, haunting, influential, important, beautiful - but the success here is even more striking because of the subject of the story.

Set in Barcelona in 1945, The Shadow of the Wind tells the story of a city pulling itself back up from the horrors of both a civil war and a world war. In this strange and unsettling atmosphere, Daniel Sempere makes his first visit to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There, he selects the one book he allowed to take with him - The Shadow of the Wind, by Julian Carax. The book leads him to his first love, a broken heart, an unlikely friendship with a homeless man, flights from death threats, the arms of a new love, the mysteries of Carax' past, and a secret history of murder, politics and book burning.

In short, the novel and its history become both an escape from and a replacement for Daniel's own life:
"I told her how until that moment I had not understood that this was a story about a lonely people about absence and loss, and that that was why I had taken refuge in it until it became confused with my own life, like someone who has escaped into the pages of a novel because those whom he needs to love seem nothing more than ghosts inhabiting the mind of a stranger." (179)
The book is at once haunting, suspenseful, erotic, romantic, eerie, poignant, and moving. It is (clearly) the kind of books that lends itself to long strings of adjectives and descriptors, itself a moving object incapable of being held by any one set of words. Zafon's writing, translated from the original Spanish by Lucia Graves, is compelling and clear, suspenseful but willing to pause for delicate descriptions of place or a moment or a pause - whatever warrants attention.

More than anything else, though, the book is itself a love letter to books, the power they hold over our thoughts and imaginations, the special place they hold in our hearts and our histories. Just as we booklovers now fear the loss of the book in the face of computers, ereaders, the internet, and 140-character stories, so too did they fear the death of the book, that all-powerful force, in the face of television and color cable:
"... the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind and great readers are becoming more scare by the day." (484)
Bottom Line: Whether you devour a book a week or read only a select few in a lifetime, I cannot stress enough that this book should be one of them. For those seeking poetry and prose, finely crafted writing and careful observations, Zafon's admiration of the beauties of the world around him are reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other great masters of detail. For those looking for an engaging plot, eager to place the pieces of the puzzle, The Shadow of the Wind is suspenseful, fast-paced and captivating. For anyone who has been touched by a book, this title is the manifestation of everything we hold dear about our precious tomes.

All I can really say, in the end, is that you'll have to read it for yourself. And I certainly hope I haven't set your expectations too high.


  1. I finally read this late last year and it immediately became one of my favorites of the 2009. I read it with a group online and we all loved it.

  2. Mary - It's definitely a favorite of 2010 for me. Glad I finally found the time in my schedule to pick it up, especially after hearing so many good things.

  3. This was one of my favorite books as well. I couldn't stop reading it, and when it was over, I was simply sad that there weren't more pages to dive into. I am interested in reading the other book that he has out as well!

  4. I loved this book. I've read it twice, but having read you gush about it I might just have to pick it up again...

  5. This sounds so very good. I never got around to it so let me now try to track it down.

  6. I was thinking of borrowing this from the library but having read this wonderful review I will definitely be purchasing a copy as soon as I can

  7. Very nicely reviewed - love your enthusiasm! This wasn't my favorite novel ever, but I'm glad I read it - definitely an interesting, fun book!


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