First of all, I want to thank my friend Barb Kaplan for recommending this book to me as we enjoyed a picnic before watching The Taming of the Shrew, pirate style, at Marin Shakespeare. This book uses wonderful language. It is also the first modern book I have seen in some time with beautiful end papers. The cover illustrator actually made the spine of the book look like an old leather book. It is a book about books and a particular book, so that is fitting. It takes place mostly in Barcelona, Spain, around the time of the Spanish Civil War and after the war, in the 1940’s and 50’s.
The book was on the Spanish bestseller list for more than a year, often first, as La Sombra del Viento. It has been published in 20 countries.
The first chapter starts, “I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetary of Forgotten Books for the first time. It was the early summer of 1945, and we walked through the streets of a Barcelona trapped beneath ashen skies as dawn poured over Rambla de Santa Monica in a wreath of liquid copper.”
Daniel is a young boy who finds a very special book. Soon book sellers are trying to buy it from him for huge amounts. A mysterious man with a burned face tries to buy it to burn it along with all the other copies of books by that author that he has been able to find.
Daniel as a teen falls in love with Clara, the beautiful blind daughter of a bookseller. He goes to her apartment every day to read to her until he has a violent run in with her piano teacher after he finds them in bed together. He has a succession of other crushes and loves, including the sister of his best friend and an older woman who knows something of the secrets of the missing author Julian.
We meet a host of other interesting characters, from Fermin, the former secret service agent/homeless man who comes to work in the book shop, to the former love of the missing author Julian to the sadistic Inspector Fumero. Some of the story is told in flashbacks and by reading the letters of other characters.
You will enjoy the snide literary references to other books such as Dante’s Divine Comedy or The Brothers Karamazov. The author will say funny things as if they are just normal conversation. “Don Federico Flavia and Merceditas went off to live together when the watchmaker’s mother died. They make a splendid couple, although there is no lack of malicious people who maintain that a leopard cannot change his spots and that, every now and then, Don Federico goes out on a binge, dressed up as a Gypsy queen.”
I rampaged through this book in about 3 days. I would go to sleep at night and wake up to read more of it. I would get up before my usual 6 a.m. to read more of it before work and would pull it out during dead times in my work training. I think my 14 year old son would enjoy reading it, but there are nuances and experiences that will only be felt by those with more life experience.
“Bea says that 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 scarce by the day. Every month we receive offers to turn our bookshop into a store selling televisions, girdles, or rope-soled shoes. They won’t get us out of here unless it’s feetfirst.
Zafon, Carlos Ruiz. (2004). The Shadow of the Wind. Translated by Lucia Graves. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 1-59420-010-6, $24.95, 487 pages.