I personally hate book reviews. Completely abhor them. The ones that appear in newspapers dissect the poor souls – I surely believe that books have souls – mercilessly with the precise hands of unfeeling scientists who have little or no respect for the person who wrote them. And so I maintain that I am not writing a book review. I am just retelling a story that I read, and think that those who have not heard about it or not yet read it should give themselves this treat at least once.
It is after the Civil War in Barcelona, Spain. A country shattered by the warring parties, stained with the dark salty scent of blood. A 10-year-old boy – Daniel – is taken to a place called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father on one morning when he wakes up screaming that he cannot remember his dead mother’s face. This Cemetery is the place where the rarest collection of old and forgotten books lies. Daniel chooses The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, and finishes it within that night. The narrative of the book – as described by Daniel – reminds him “of one of those Russian dolls that contain innumerable diminishing replicas of themselves inside. Step by step the narrative split into a thousand stories, as if it had entered a gallery of mirrors, its identity fragmented into endless reflection.”
Within a few days Daniel is repeatedly visited by a man without a face – with no eyelashes or lips or skin – just with burnt wrinkled skin. He wants to buy the book by Julian from Daniel, and set fire to it like he has done with all the other books by this particular author. Begins a journey where Daniel and his fugitive friend Fermin do all that they can to uncover the life of Julian and save his books from the faceless man who walks by the name of Lain Coubert - the name that Julian used for Devil in one of his novels.
There is Inspector Javier Fumero – perhaps the worst kind of nemesis possible. He worked as a spy during the war, shifting his allegiance to whichever group that gave him better opportunities to kill without having to report for the deaths. A Devil to the core, he is inextricably linked to Julian Carax.
Nuria Monfort, a French lady who was complimented once with “Vous avez du poison au coeur”, lies to Daniel about Julian, and also about her own husband Miquel Moliner.
There is a certain Penelope, whose spirit seems to be imprisoned within the books of Julian. Penelope is the object of Nuria’s envy, Daniel’s mystery and Julian’s misfortune. Jacinta – a “barren” woman – with more motherly affection compared to all the mothers in the book; a blind Clara who was the object of teenager Daniel's affection; a Ricardo Aldaya who unwittingly falls prey to his own lechery, bringing ruin to his whole dynasty – all the characters breathe in the war-infected air of the early-mid twentieth century Spain.
And there is Beatriz, with little physical appearance in the narrative compared to many other characters, but bringing redemption to many of the cursed souls trapped in the pages of The Shadow of the Wind with her love and courage.
There is more to the book than what I could mention with an overwhelmed heart and inexpert fingers. Lot more.
There are hardly any long or short descriptions of nature or sunset or sunrise or whatsoever which make me turn the pages to jump to the next “real” part. There are glimpses of the city, it’s dingy lanes, smells, tastes, air, lights, and people. The author, Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s love for the gothic or unconventional can be traced in his tastes – for he writes in a website that he has a weakness for carnivorous plants – “I had one named Gertrude that captured and devoured huge spiders. I'm planning to get another one to feed it snobby people and fanatics of all sorts.” Quote source: http://www.carlosruizzafon.co.uk/toptens.html
This is the same element – the dark and weirdly comfortable – that I found in the book. The pages are replete with a tangy sense of humour – almost to the point of cynicism – which forces you to read between the lines even if you were not planning to get serious about the book. Zafon somewhat forces you, with his “Sugus sweet” lines, to get involved in the lives of the characters just as Daniel was forced to investigate about Julian Carax without ever intending to.
The Shadow of the Wind – both the real book and the fictional one by Julian – are intricately linked, and so are the lives of Julian and Daniel.
Zafon also has self-composed music pieces complementing the book which you can download for free here. The music goes beautifully with the essence of the book. It has the mystery and comfort the the book gives you. No hollowness, no bitterness. Plain contentment in spite of life’s ironies and curses.
And before I embark upon a re-reading of the book, thank you Abhinanda Chakrabrty, for introducing me to Julian Carax! I didn’t think this was my-kinda book when I tried to judge the book by its cover. I opened it, there was the dedication – “For Joan Ramon Planas, who deserves better.” And the rest, as they say, is love!