Sunday, April 27, 2014

REVIEW: Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,  #1)The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2005
Genre(s): Fiction (perhaps of the historical variety or even with a dash of Magical Realism), Mystery?
Series: NA
Translated by: Lucia Graves
Awards: Barry Award for Best First Novel (2005) plus a bunch of others
Format: Audio
Narrated By: Jonathan Davis

Recommended subtitle: The Insane Compulsions of the Human Heart

The recommended subtitle makes this sound like such a heavy book but it is not. It is one of those unique books that manages to be both charming and highly emotional. It is hard to categorize. It crosses genres with disregarding abandon – at times an absorbing mystery, at others a sentimental romance, than dabbling with some magical realism and swooping in with the beautiful language of literary fiction. It is also historical, taking place in 1945 Barcelona and frequently made me laugh. At times it feels very epic and at other times it is beautifully and heartbreakingly intimate. I feel like it is could be all things for all people. I can’t imagine a reader that would not get something out of this beautiful novel. It is a book with heart and soul.

However, I didn’t immediately connect with it. The book starts with our main protagonist Daniel as an 11 year old boy and tells the story of how he becomes obsessed with a girl, ten years his senior. He generally acts foolish and childish until the cathartic events of his sixteenth birthday. In this one night of Daniel’s life, Zafon creates a series of shaping events the culmination of which is quiet and beautiful and from which Daniel emerges as an adult. I got sucked into the story of this night and wept copiously as Daniel and his father come together again in the early hours of the morning. It was at this moment that I knew this book was going to be special.

It is really two stories; that of our main protagonist Daniel and of the enigmatic writer Julian Carax with whom he becomes fascinated. Daniel is inexplicably drawn to Carax’s book, The Shadow of the Wind, when his bookseller father is initiating him into the mysteries of the Cemetary of Forgotten Books. Daniel quickly discovers that Carax’s books are extremely rare and that in fact a mysterious figure has been tracking down all copies of the books and burning them. Daniel’s investigation into the mystery of the book takes on extra urgency when he is approached by this mysterious character and threatened unless he turns over his copy of The Shadow of the Wind. His investigation uncovers an epic story of love and betrayal and death and ultimately puts Daniel himself in great danger. Along this journey, Daniel is also learning what it means to grow up and fall in love.

This book isn’t perfect – it’s a little flabby and meandering at times and can be blatantly manipulative. There are multiple love triangles that would put a soap opera to shame if diagrammed out of context. The flaws didn’t matter to me at all though, because the book does so many other things so very well. The characters are a pure delight particularly Fermin Romero de Torres and Daniel. Fermin is one of those characters who is a little crazy but who spouts wisdom in every other sentence. His monologues are both hilarious and profound. The plot could easily have been overwrought but it walks the line and somehow delivers melodrama without a single eye roll. It’s fun and sad and touching and gripping. Basically it is everything one expects and wishes for from a great book.

Comments about the Audio: This audio version of the book was pretty good but I did have a couple of nitpicks. One was that the reader was American or Canadian but whenever he got to a Spanish word like Barcelona or the character’s names he would abruptly say these with a proper Spanish accent and pronunciation. While saying this makes me feel like an insular self-absorbed ‘Merican, it did kind of drive me crazy. Also there is some very romantic piano music that sort of randomly intrudes on the reading and was obviously not meshed with the narration. The narration just continued as usual but with this florid piano all the sudden appearing. This also drove me a little crazy but then I felt bad when it is credited to the author at the end of the book; i.e. the author wrote the music! It was pretty and I did appreciate it for itself, but I kind of wish it had just been played during interludes, between chapters etc… rather than under the narration.

Final Verdict: I laughed, I cried, It was better than Cats. Wonderful novel that should have wide appeal to all sorts of readers! Book nerds should especially appreciate!

I make some sweeping claims that everyone should find something to like in this book.  Anybody who's read it disagree with me?

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