It is a rare Spanish author who does not get me down with the heavy tragic tones of his novel. And it is a rarer one still who does not make me want to finish the novel in one sitting, despite the fact that I am going to feel sad while reading it. “The Shadow of the Wind” (Original: La Sombra del Viento) by Carlo Ruiz Zafón did not disappoint me on either count.
The day young Daniel Sampere wakes up not remembering the face of his dead mother, he finds a book called “The Shadow of the Wind” written by Julian Carax in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Right from the start, Daniel is captivated by the book, and wants to know more about the author.
Unfortunately, he finds out in his quest that the author never sold more than 50 copies of any of his books, and was killed on the morning of his marriage to a rich benefactor, his body found in a gully and buried in communal grave. What is interesting is the story of a man going around buying and burning all the copies of Carax’ books. In his quest, he meets and falls in love with beautiful but blind Clara Barcelo. But Clara being almost ten years older than him, he soon finds out that she has “betrayed” his love.
Thus starts the second chapter in his life, and his by now almost forgotten quest. Aided by Fermín Romero de Torres, a man who has fallen on hard times after the Spanish Civil War, he starts once again to piece together Julien Carax from memories of people who knew him. In this, he meets people like Father Fernando Ramos, a childhood friend of Julien, Nuria Monfort (the secretary in the firm which published Carax’ novels), who is hiding some secrets of her own, and Jacinta Coronado, the governess of Penelope Aldaya, one and only love of Julian.
But he also comes across dangerous men like Francisco Javier Fumero, once the friend of Julian, and now a murderous and influential police inspector, who would rather keep the dead matters dead, and a man with burned face, who calls himself Laín Coubert, the same name as the Devil in Shadow of the Wind.
Right from the time Julian Carax’ story starts unfolding, we realise that the lives of Daniel and Julien run on parallel, although not quite similar tracks. While Julien’s life is a story of one tragedy after another, Daniel lives a much better life, somehow avoiding all those downfalls.
Julien grows up with father who hates him and his mother, while Daniel enjoys a much closer and loving relationship with his father. Julian falls in love with Penélope Aldaya, the daughter of his benefactor and sister of his rich friend. Daniel finds his first love in Clara, the niece of a rich books dealer, who is the first person Daniel approaches for help in his quest for Julian, and then in Beatriz Aguilar, the sister of his rich friend Tomás.
Both Julian and Daniel are hunted by the ruthless Inspector Fumero, while Coubert has proven that he may not let anything stop him from burning Julian’s books, thus completely erasing Julian’s name and memories from world. But both Julian and Daniel are lucky to have good friends, who love and help them selflessly to the end.
As I said, the book has heavy tragic tones in the story. The entire book is set in the post-WWII and post-Civil War era, with its shadow and effects constantly present in the background. Even so, this is another of book-lovers’ dreams (and is aptly compared to “The Club Dumas“), with its concept of Cemetary of Forgotten Books, the place where forgotten books are kept and every initiate must choose one book to protect from oblivion. This concept that the author lives and dies with his books may almost be the mainstay of the storyline.
All in all, despite the dark and gothic storyline, mysterious mansions with their own secrets lending the place settings and even darker characters (sometimes, Inspector Fumero seems like the hero The Joker never had), I am looking forward to reading “The Angel’s Game” (El Juego del Ángel), the prequel to the Shadow. Kind of like eating raw mango (kairi), I know I am going to spend next two hours without a feeling in my gums, but it is worth the pain and discomfort.
Quote of The Day:
. . . few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.
– Daniel Sampere, The Shadow of The Wind