The Shadow of the Wind (La Sombra del Viento)
Carlos Ruiz Zafon, 2001
Translation to English in 2004, Lucia Graves
The book opens in 1945 Daniel Sempere’s father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where eleven year old Daniel adopts a book titled The Shadow of the Wind, written by Julian Carax in 1935.
Zafon layers the love stories of Julian Carax and Daniel Sempere, not so much as a book within a book, but more two stories within one novel. He sets these tales on the plane of surreal Barcelona, as much a character in the novel as either Julian or Daniel.
Seeking more information about Julian Carax, Daniel falls in love with the beautiful Clara Barcelo almost twice his age, when he seeks out Clara’s uncle, a noted book seller and collector. Clara knew of Carax through an old tutor and had long searched for titles by the author to no avail. Barcelo knows just enough to send Julian down several circuitous paths, chasing the whereabouts and intrigues of the missing author. Eventually Julian gives his prized book to Clara, hoping to garner her love.
Daniel meets Lain Coubert in the street one night following an argument with his father. Lain’s leathery, burned face scares Daniel. The monstrous man seemed to have stepped from the pages of Carax’s novel. Lain is the name Carax gave the Devil in Shadow of the Wind and he wants to buy the book from Daniel. Shaken, Daniel seeks out Clara to protect her from Lain and to hide the book. He finds Clara in bed with her lover. The enraged lover beats Daniel and throws him from the house, but not before Daniel finds the book.
Stumbling from the house, Daniel passes a beggar camped outside Clara’s door. The beggar invites Daniel to rest and share some cheap wine. Eventually, Daniel’ father employs this beggar, Fermin Romero de Torres.
Daniel conspires with Fermin to unravel the mystery of Julian Carax and the missing books. They learn that Julian and Fermin share a common enemy, who yet seeks to detroy Fermin and those who help him.
The plot unfolds into a history of Julian Carax that mirrors Daniel’s story. Daniel falls for his best friend’s sister, just as Julian had done years earlier. Brothers and rival suitors tear through the linked tales in past and current setting for the book, while Fermin and Daniel track further into the reaches of a colorful underbelly of Barcelona. Meanwhile, Fermin’s enemy seeks to kill both Fermin and Daniel.
I enjoyed the dense layering of plot and setting. At one point Daniel promises to show Bea, his lbeloved, a side of Barcelona that will make her want to stay, in the city and with Daniel. In showing Bea the city, Daniel reveals Barcelona to the reader, delighting, scaring and enticing. Fermin Romero de Torres establishes a running commentary on politics women and Barcelona adding delightful turns of phrase, sophistry and wisdom to the text. Julian Carax as well as the old librarian delighted me throughout.
All in all a great, if long, read.