Tuesday, December 30, 2008

“La sombra del viento” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Shadow of the Wind)

Year of publication: 2001
Setting and time: Barcelona and Paris, after the Spanish civil war
Genre: mystery, thriller, romance, period epic
Themes: writing, literature, mystery, love, war and dictatorship,

About the author: He was born in Barcelona in 1964 and has been living in Los Angeles, United States, since 1993. He published some young adult fiction before writing La Sombra del Viento, which became a best-seller in Europe. A prequel, El Juego del Angel (The Angel’s Game) was published in Spanish in 2008.

Plot: The story concerns a young boy, Daniel. One day, his 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.

Some thoughts: As I began to read this novel because I wanted to brush up my Spanish, I felt immediately and completely engaged. I started to make comparisons with the mystery in some of the stories of Borges and the “real maravilloso” in the novels of Isabel Allende. The style and the story is very compelling: a book and an author that have been hidden for many years and there is a mystery behind it, involving literature and old libraries that contain forgotten books. The first 100 pages are a love letter to literature and books, but then the book begins to be a mere detective story involving the story of Julián Carax and the reason why he disappeared and his books are so hard to find. I think that one of the flaws of the book is that it is too long, over 550 pages, and the excitement of the beginning gets lost in the city of Barcelona. I usually don’t like genre novels and even less best-sellers. This novel was very exciting at the beginning and quite disappointing in the end. Sometimes I even found the characters to be stereotyped: either very good, like Daniel, or very bad, like the inspector Fumero, who’s the real villain of the story.
However, the setting is magic: if you love Barcelona, you will love this novel (despite the fact that there is not a single word in Catalan). Also, if you liked The Da Vinci Code and you want to read something equally engaging I advise you to read this novel. The back cover says that Ruiz Zafón sounds like Arturo Pérez-Reverte to give you an idea, but I’ve never read one of his novels, so I can't tell. The Washington Post says it sounds like A.S. Byatt, García Márquez (why do writers from Spanish-speaking countries have to sound like García Marquez no matter what they write?), Borges, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (a watered-down version, I would add), Paul Auster’s New York trilogy and Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Nostre Dame (and then, Dante’s Inferno maybe?).


  1. Mia sorella l'ha letto e le è piaciuto. Io sto leggendo in questo periodo "Il gioco dell'angelo". E sono piacevolmente sorpreso (e preso bene) dal romanzo. Finito questo mi fiondo su "La sombra del viento"! In italiano però!!!
    P.S.: Buon anno!!!!

  2. CEDRIC: Spero che ti piacciano i libri lunghi... io all'inizio ero molto presa,ma dopo un po' cominciavo ad annoiarmi e volevo arrivare al più presto alla fine, per vedere come si risolve il mistero. Ad un certo punto, infatti, verso la metà del libro, l'autore non riesce a mantenere tutta quella suspence che c'era all'inizio e si capisce abbastanza bene come va a finire. Peccato, perché la prima parte del libro era bellissima ed intrigante...
    Secondo me ci dovrebbe essere una legge sulla lunghezza dei romanzi, ahahah!

  3. I enjoyed this book enough to pick up its prequel/sequel, but I agree that it's wildly overrated by some as "serious" literature. The García Márquez, Borges, and Eco comparisons are way off base, but I thought it was a fun enough read helped by being set in one of my favorite cities. I may have a higher tolerance for genre novels than you do, though. Buon'anno!