Series: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #1
Published by Phoenix Press on October 5th 2005
Genres: Historical Fiction
Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets--an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.
Hold your tomatoes!
I feel like writing anything negative about this book would be considered some kind of literary treason, but I’m going to do it anyway.
The Shadow of the Wind is an extremely popular book around the world and for good reason. I can see why other people would love it even if I could not.
The story follows a young boy named Daniel, who lives in his father’s bookshop in Barcelona during the 1940s. One day at the age of ten, his father takes Daniel to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where he is allowed pick one book he is expected to “save”, i.e. read and remember throughout his life. Daniel ends up picking The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax and immediately falls in love with the story. From that point onwards we follow Daniel as he grows up and tries to untangle the mystery behind the book and its illusive author. The search turns out to be more dangerous than anyone could have anticipated.
This novel is beautifully written and full of memorable quotes and passages and I loved the philosophical (and sometimes psychological) aspects it portrayed. I had to write down some of the metaphors and similes because they were too poignant to forget. For example, the way Zafón described snow as “God’s dandruff” simply had me in awe.
The incredible writing also serves to create a novel that is wonderfully atmospheric. You’re transported to 1945 Barcelona and after finishing it you will feel like you’ve just gotten back from a holiday. I thought the author captured that gothic atmosphere perfectly and the vivid imagery further underlined the strong setting.
Furthermore, I really enjoyed some of the characters and character dynamics. Fermín was my favourite, with his witty and sarcastic nature that can be both infuriating (like when he makes comments about women) and charming. He functions as a much needed comic relief throughout the story and I thought he was an interesting take on the wise mentor archetype. As Daniel’s friend and confidant, Fermín truly became a delightful side character.
I also liked seeing the relationship between Daniel and his father. Seeing these kinds of family dynamics play out is always great and I thought the book did it in a realistic manner, even if there wasn’t that much of it.
Unfortunately, many of the other characters fell very flat for me. I never warmed to Daniel as a character, though I appreciated how flawed the author made him. After finishing the book I realized that I had nothing to say about Daniel, nothing noteworthy, I didn’t even know what type of person he was. He felt more like a vessel to narrate the story than an actual character, a problem I experienced with some of the other characters as well. We got so much backstory on all of them but they never felt real to me and thus all the tragedy that they experienced lacked emotional impact.
Moving on to the plot is where my main problem starts. Firstly, it seemed like the author was trying too hard to create this epic tale with a large scope by having the story span several decades and contain multiple point of views, all of which made the story muddled rather than creating urgency and suspense. There are so many characters (many of whom only appear once or twice) that it became confusing, unnecessarily so.
Secondly, we have the issue of the mystery. The book takes place during several years as Daniel slowly tries to unravel the details of the main conflict. Technically, there is nothing wrong with that. However, three quarters into the book we still aren’t any closer to getting actual answers. All Daniel does is spin in circles. So instead of having him slowly figure things out on his own and untangling the intricate web that is Julian Carax’s life, the author simply has one of the characters write a 30+ page letter to him, detailing every aspect of the mystery and thus solving it for him. Needless to say, that such a complete lack of cleverness or refinement on the author’s part left me quite disappointed. After reading such a long book that seems too dragged out as it is, this payoff was dissatisfying to say the least, even if some of the plot twists were rather unexpected.
I also wasn’t happy with the portrayal of female characters. For the most part, I found them to be quite two-dimensional and it seemed they were mostly characterised by their beauty. They were largely weak and clichéd and only seemed to exist as love interests to the book’s male characters. I didn’t feel like a single woman in the story acted in any way that was empowering or displayed agency or independence.
Overall, this book felt a bit a too melodramatic to me (as I am not a fan of the tragic love trope) and I was very dissatisfied with how the mystery was resolved. However, it does contain some great themes such as love, friendship, death and loss and is beautifully written. I think many readers will enjoy this book even if it wasn’t for me.