Last week life intervened and I missed a few days of posting but the book I was reading will, I think, made up for it. The Shadow of the Wind is art in its purest sense. The words are carefully chosen and wonderfully juxtaposed to make prose that sings, creating word pictures, tension, and empathy that draw the reader into the heart of the novel. Written by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and translated from the original Spanish by Lucia Graves, it is a story within a story, carefully constructed to follow the lives of two different men who could have been father and son in an alternate reality. The younger man, Daniel Sempere, is the son of a bookstore proprietor; the older man, Julián Carax, the son of a hatter, is a novelist. Just days before his 11th birthday, Daniel is taken at dawn by his father to an old building in Barcelona called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books where he finds and claims The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax as his own book to cherish and be responsible for forever. The Cemetery is a special and secret place for Daniel and his father. The door keeper, Isaac, will be a further connection in the story of the mysterious Julián Carax.
The book is an inspiration for Daniel; he reads it in one night and it lingers, having cast a spell that reminds Daniel of a comment he overheard in his father’s book shop:
Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later — no matter how many books we may read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget — we will return. For me those enchanted pages will always be the ones I found among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
You can see what an amazing writer Zafón is. His descriptions of Barcelona are breathtakingly mysterious. Especially the ones just before dawn at the docks with mist rolling in from the sea or the ones of Daniel stealthily approaching the decaying mansion of the wealthy industrialist Don Ricardo Aldaya. Or here, where he describes the soul of a book.
Daniel’s voice is the narrator through the first sections of the story which begins just after the Spanish civil war. His mother is dead and his father terribly lonely, living on lost emotions with a sadness settled over him, his son and his bookstore his only interests. With the discovery of the book, the Semperes seek out Don Gustavo Barceló, an authority on antiquarian books to learn more of the author and what other novels he wrote. This is where Daniel loses his heart and gains his purpose. Barceló examines the book while his niece, Clara entertains Daniel who becomes totally besotted with the well-educated, beautiful blind lady who is twice his age. His purpose becomes the tracing of the life and times of Julián Carax, whose books, which never sold well, have been systematically tracked down and burned to ashes by one, Lain Coubert, a fictional character representing the devil from Carax’s Shadow of the Wind.
As Daniel pieces together the life of Carax, he discovers a tissue of lies, a spiderweb of mad revenge and terror, love betrayed, and devotion that transcends all trials. The more he learns about Carax, the more confused he becomes and the more he seems to be repeating the author’s history: wanting to write, falling into a love doomed from the start, becoming a fugitive from a deranged detective, and almost losing his identity. The narration switches to the handwritten story from Carax’s one remaining true friend, Nuria, after she has been killed by the detective, the incredibly evil Fumero, who is determined to destroy all evidence of the existence of Carax.
The description of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books reminds me of the librarium in Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, a maze full of twists and turns, levels of stacks, and the necessity of marking a trail to find your way back almost like this story itself. It was a complete shock, when, just before the beginning of Nuria’s narration, Daniel announces that in 7 days he will be dead. But Nuria’s story is compelling and the reader doggedly follows its line to where Daniel picks the thread up again.
Just as Carax concludes his book with a “brief coda in which he gathers up the threads of his characters’ fates”, Ruiz Zafón has Daniel do the same, revealing still more surprises. Then, with history still repeating itself, Daniel returns to the Cemetery with his small son with some of the same script from the book’s beginning:
A young man, already showing a few gray hairs, walks through the streets of a Barcelona trapped beneath ashen skies as dawn pours over Rambla de Santa Monica in a wreath of liquid copper. He holds the hand of a ten-year-old boy whose eyes are intoxicated with the mystery of the promise his father made him at dawn, the promise of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
As with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories, I think the beauty and power of the prose will be lost in the movie adaptation but I haven’t watched it yet. I will and will report back. An amazing story from start to finish. * * * * *