Sunday, March 18, 2007

Shadow of the Wind

Years ago, I received an advanced reading copy of The Shadow of the Wind, which had been a major Spanish bestseller. The marketing copy on the jacket was compelling enough to make the book a keeper, but I put it on the shelf and forgot about it for a few years.

Last summer I chose the novel as my airplane book for a transatlantic flight.
A potentially lethal dose of rave word-of-mouth recommendations and glowing print reviews set my expectations unreasonably high. Naturally, I would choose to read this sweeping mystery set in the cold, drizzly postwar Barcelona on a vacation that offered little time for reading, managing 50 pages. Finally, I finished it this January—five months after I started it— during a most satisfying, four-hour marathon reading session.

This novel, which has been compared to Borges and to Victor Hugo, is about Daniel, who at 10 is taken by his bookseller father to the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Here he is allowed to select one book, and he chooses a novel by the obscure Spanish writer Julian Carax. A few years later, a series of events prompts Daniel to want to know more about the author so he begins a journey that twists and turns, pokey during the first half of the book and at a galloping pace for the last half.

The journey is full of deception and echoes and ghosts and richly drawn, eccentric characters. And, there’s romance and a number of storylines that all come together by the end. The plot is so convoluted—in a multilayered good way—that I recommend reading Richard Eder’s review in the
New York Times, which offers a thorough plot synopsis. Here is one of the only quotes that I wrote down: “A book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.”

If you like sprawling, bleak, and atmospheric novels with supernatural touches—and haven’t already read this—run, pick up a copy of The Shadow of the Wind now.

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