Hidden in the heart of the old city of Barcelona is the ‘Cemetery of Lost Books’, a labyrinthine library of obscure and forgotten titles that have long gone out of print. To this library, a man brings his 10-year-old son Daniel one cold morning in 1945. Daniel is allowed to choose one book from the shelves and pulls out ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Julian Carax.
But as he grows up, several people seem inordinately interested in his find. Then, one night, as he is wandering the old streets once more, Daniel is approached by a figure who reminds him of a character from the book, a character who turns out to be the devil. This man is tracking down every last copy of Carax’s work in order to burn them. 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…
This book has made it to the elite tier guys, I love this book with every fibre of my being and I feel an overwhelming need to profess my love and convince everyone I know to read this novel and bask in this tremendous story. Just from the synopsis alone I knew I would enjoy this novel and my belief was definitely not misplaced, because from the first chapter, I was sold and strapping myself in for the journey. And what a journey it was! I don’t feel like I’ll ever be able to write an adequate review to aptly describe or depict this story but I’m going to try.
The novel begins on a cold morning in Barcelona, where a father and his then ten year old son Daniel are going to visit the ‘Cemetery of Lost Books’. The Cemetery is a labyrinth consisting solely of forgotten books, their stories and authors lost to time but kept alive within these walls and by the readers and book lovers who visit from time to time. Daniel is told that he can pick any book from the countless shelves, something that is for him and for him alone, and he stumbles upon a novel titled The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. As he reads it and gets entranced by the compelling story, Daniel grows more and more obsessed with finding out more about the novels enigmatic author. As he grows up, he finds that he isn’t the only one interested in Julian Carax and his works, some even dangerously so…
“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.”
To put it in the simplest of terms, I loved this story and how it had every element I enjoy in fiction and find so compelling, ranging from mystery, romance, tragedy and murder to name just a few. I enjoyed how the characters and in turn, the reader is led on this trail following the clues and slowly finding out different pieces of the puzzle, which makes it so satisfying when the truth is ultimately revealed. There were a couple points I definitely picked up on and figured out before they were revealed but this didn’t ruin anything for me, I just felt shocked and somehow even more invested in the story. I definitely gasped a lot and had a few moments where I had to put the book down, to process and then I quickly picked it back up because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next! I don’t want to spoil major plot points in this review but I was definitely satisfied by the direction of the mystery and resolution we got, it was in tone with the novel.
“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”
As well as the nature of the story itself, I enjoyed reading about the different characters and seeing how their lives play out through the course of the novel. I liked that we get to see them progress and change over a number of years, as Daniel is 10 at the beginning and is around 17 or 18 when the novel concludes. This is a book where there is a lot of nuance when it comes to the characters and the choices they make, noone is solely ‘bad’ or ‘good’ and I feel like this is so true to life. We get to know and understand each of these characters intimately, from their successes in life to their failures and some dreams that did not come to pass, it’s so wistful and sad at times, and so deeply, tragically human.
It would be remiss of me to write this review and not comment on the tone and setting of the novel which added so much richness and depth for me. Although I haven’t been to Barcelona before, through the rich descriptions I felt like I was transported into the city and walking its streets which have so much history. I love books or settings with a gothic feel and this novel definitely plays on this and does it so successfully. The setting adds so much to the sense of mystery and secrecy, of hushed conversations and long held family secrets.
Overall, The Shadow of the Wind is definitely one of my favourite reads of the year and I can’t wait to read more of Zafóns work in the future. I can’t recommend this book enough, especially to fans of literary thrillers and book lovers alike, it’s a truly beautiful read. I’ll end this review on a quote from the book which I feel like sums this novel up for me and my relationship with reading and books as a whole.
“Once, in my father’s bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that 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 read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.”
Until next time,