Mar 18, 2011

Review: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Title: The Shadow of the Wind (La Sombra del Viento)
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Translated by Lucia Graves)
Publication Year: 2001 (Translated in 2004)
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Links: Goodreads | Amazon (Paperback) | Amazon (Kindle)

Hidden in the heart of the old city of Barcelona is the 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books', a labyrinthine library of obscure and forgotten titles. To this library, a man brings his 10-year-old son, Daniel, one cold morning in 1945. Daniel is allowed to choose one book and from the dusty shelves pulls The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. But as Daniel grows up, several people seem inordinately interested in his find. What begins as a case of literary curiosity turns into a race to find out the truth behind the life and death of Julian Carax and to save those he left behind.

My two cents: Greatly amazing! I don't really have any words to describe how I feel about this book but those two words seem inadequate. It is just simply outstanding and beautiful. Once in a while, you come across a book that leaves you speechless and wanting more. This book does just that to me.

It opens in post-Spanish Civil War Barcelona, where young Daniel woke up one dawn screaming as he couldn't remember his mother's face. In his effort to soothe Daniel, his father took him to 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books' where he picked up The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. Enthralled by the beauty of the book, Daniel started looking for other books by Julian Carax. Soon, he found himself entangled in a web of mystery, affecting himself and those he knew and those he would know.

I have to admit, though I've heard good reviews and my friend said it's really good, I was a bit skeptical as I would be picking up a translated copy (my friend read it in its original language). I've read enough of works in my own language which had been translated into English and the end results are mostly disappointing. The beauty of the language and its expression is often lost somewhere in the translation. Somehow, as soon as I started reading, I knew I would not put this down until I finished it. The translation is beautiful. I guess I would never know whether it has done justice to the original text. But it's really good and it didn't really feel like I was reading a translated work.

The characters are complex. Daniel is likable. But the one character that really stole my heart is Fermin Romero de Torres. He's funny, witty, full of expression and dramatic. I just gotta love the guy. At some points, I questioned the introduction of the characters into the story. One such character is Clara Barcelo. At the introduction, I was deceived into thinking she played a key role in the story. But, as the story progressed, it's clear the purpose of her character is to warn the readers of the danger of unrequited puppy love. The lives of the characters are intertwined with each other in such a beautiful and twisted way I could never guess what was going to happen next. People from both past and present are related in ways so complex making the story more interesting.

Now, I've never been to Barcelona, the main setting of this book. It was quite difficult getting into the story at first since the names of the streets are all alien to me. But, the vivid description of the city and its streets helped. As the story progressed and I get more familiar with the names of places and streets, I can slowly picture the beauty of the city and the rich heritage it embraces. At the end of the book, I fall in love with the city and it is my hope to one day set foot in Barcelona. I can certainly feel the author's fondness towards the city.

My review could never do justice to this book. I'd say it certainly fits for bibliophiles. It's a book about books. And the twists are unpredictable. Just when you think the story is going in one direction, it changes its course. There's mystery, horror, romance and humour, all in one book. All in all, it is really a must read. The book stayed with me long after I finished reading it. I couldn't help thinking about the characters and the lives they led. Never before a book touches me the way this book does.

Some memorable quotes:

"Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens."

"Wars have no memory, and nobody has the courage to understand them until there no voices left to tell what really happened, until the moment comes when we no longer recognize them and they return, with another face and another name, to devour everything they left behind."

"There are worse prisons than words."

My verdict: 5/5

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