The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

“Is it true you haven’t read any of these books?”
“Books are boring.”
“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you,” answered Julián.

“The Shadow of the Wind” is one of those books that leave me deeply satisfied and in tears. It’s a sweeping epic about Daniel Sempere, a bookseller’s son, who – by accident or preordained by fate – learns about an obscure and mostly forgotten author, Julian Carax, whose book “The Shadow of the Wind” will change Daniel’s life and those of pretty much everyone he loves.

Even though there are some rather exciting and suspenseful scenes throughout the book, Zafón takes his time to paint a broad picture of Barcelona, the narrated time (1945 to 1966) and people. And, yes, at times this does make the book somewhat slow but only by giving room to everyone in this book to gain a character of his or her own can we really appreciate the masterpiece this book actually is.

Because there’s not a single character to whom we cannot relate: Daniel, driven first by his desire to know and understand the secret he is chasing after. His father who understands him and – in spite of warning Daniel – lets the latter make his own mistakes. Fermin, the reliable albeit somewhat shady friend of the family whom Daniel picks up from the street.

Not only the major characters are fully fleshed out, though, but even a tram conductor on the sidelines of the story gets his chance to shine.

Zafón can do this because not only does he have a wonderful story to tell but he has the language to tell it as well:

My voice, rather stiff at first, slowly became more relaxed, and soon I forgot myself and was submerged once more in the narrative, discovering cadences and turns of phrase that flowed like musical motifs, riddles made of timbre and pauses I had not noticed during my first reading.

Nevertheless, beyond phases of untarnished happiness (“She looked intoxicated with happiness.”) there’s always a sublime threat lurking just beyond the page we’re currently reading. We always feel Franco’s oppressive dictatorship and the climate of denunciation, endangering whatever little peace the characters get.

Yet, there’s always hope and, often, a bit of comic relief:

Isaac let out a snort of defeat and examined Bea carefully, like a suspicious policeman. “Do you realize you’re in the company of an idiot?” he asked. Bea smiled politely. “I’m beginning to come to terms with it.”

At the end of the day, this is certainly not a simple book; not one that lends itself to be read at the beach but more of one that should be enjoyed with a glass of wine, read amongst books because this is a story about books:

About accursed books, about the man who wrote them, about a character who broke out of the pages of a novel so that he could burn it, about a betrayal and a lost friendship. It’s a story of love, of hatred, and of the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind.

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