‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Some books grab your attention by its title, some enthrall you by its story, a few by the beauty of the language, yet others by the setting, then others by the characters and certain others by the narration or plot. When all these come together in a book, you lose your heart to it,totally. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I haven’t read something like this in a long time.
Young Daniel wakes up one morning screaming for his long lost mother, and his father , who runs a bookshop that specializes in ‘rare collectors’ editions and secondhand books’, takes him to a run down palatial building. As the large wooden door is opened and Daniel is ushered in to
‘A labyrinth of passage-ways and crammed bookshelves rose from base to pinnacle like a beehive, woven with tunnels, steps, platforms and bridges that presaged an immense library of seemingly impossible geometry.’
His father welcomes him to the place….
“Welcome to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, Daniel……This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume that 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. This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though.
When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands. In the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book that you see here has been somebody’s best friend. Now they only have us, Daniel. Do you think you’ll be able to keep such a secret?”
I was hooked.
A wine-coloured leather bound book choses Daniel, one that he had never heard of before . He hadn’t heard of the author, either. ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Juilan Carax. The ten year old’s life is never the same again.
Daniel is so captivated by the book that he wants to get hold of other books by the author. Not many had heard of the author and the strangest fact is that someone else also seems to be searching for Carax’s books only to destroy them. As Daniel grows up and as he tries to learn more about Julian, his life seems to mirror that of the elusive author. The multitude of characters that have gone through Julian’s life seem to be connected to Daniel as well, in one way or the other. The impish Fermin, Miquel and Jorge who were once Julian’s best friends, Fumero who is manically unscrupulous, Isaac the guardian of forgotten books and his ill fated daughter Nuria, the ethereal Penelope who is Julian’s only true love – each one of them has their own story that is inevitably bound in some way or other to Julian and each one is so strongly etched , they remain with you long after you have finished reading the book.
This a story within a story , imperceptibly ties to each other. Julian’s life, is set mostly in the background of the Spanish civil war .in the author’s own words,
“As it unfolded, the structure of the story began to remind me of one of those Russian dolls that contain innumerable diminishing replicas of themselves deep inside. Step by step the narrative split into a thousand stories, as if it had entered a gallery of mirrors, its identity fragmented into endless reflections.”
If stories have colors, this one would be a dak brown, with shades of light in between. There are many plots and so many characters and each is linked to the other like the weaves of a lovely and complicated tapestry. Almost throughout the book, you feel as though you are walking down the dark and gloomy streets of a war torn Barcelona with buildings around you that seem to house ghots and vampires, the imagery is that vivid. There is intrigue, revenge, murder, cruelty, mystery and passion. Then there is also love, compassion, passion and hope. It would not be out of place to say that it is almost Shakespearean in plot and characterization.
The book is also a treasure house for quotation lovers. Here are a few..
“There are yokels out there who think that if they touch a woman’s behind and she doesn’t complain, they’ve hooked her. Amateurs. The female heart is a labryinth of subtleties, too challenging for the uncouth mind of the male racketeer. If you really want to possess a woman, you must think like her, and the first thing to do is to win over her soul. The rest, that sweet, soft wrapping that steals away your senses and your virtue, is a bonus.”
“Television, my dear Daniel, is the Antichrist, and I can assure you that after only three or four generations, people will no longer even know how to fart on their own. Humans will return to living in caves, to medieval savagery, and to the general state of imbecility that slugs overcame back in the Pleistocene era. Our world will not die as a result of the bomb, as the papers say – it will die of laughter, of banality, of making a joke of everything, and a lousy joke at that.”
“The words with which a child’s heart is poisoned, whether through malice or through ignorance, remain branded in his memory, and sooner or later they burn his soul.”
The icing on the cake is that its all set in the background of books, old bookshops, ancient libraries and most of all people who adore the written word.
Verdict: A must read for anyone who loves well laid out plots, strong characters and captivating narration , in short for anyone who loves a well written tale. For me, this is a ‘to be read again’ one.