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Review of the Books: The Shadow of the Wind

Updated on September 21, 2012
The Shadow of the Wind Cover
The Shadow of the Wind Cover

The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind is a haunting Gothic thriller set in post World War II Barcelona. It is book within a book, and the author amidst the beautiful descriptions of Barcelona, also spends a great deal of time enamoring the reader with his love of literature.

This is a book that gets you familiar with the history of Spain, the city of Barcelona (much to the point where I would really like to visit the city now), and keeps your love of books alive. A lot of different ideas come together: love, suspense, horror, tragedy, and comedy make for a very beautiful coming of age story for this book's primary narrator, Daniel Sempere.

Publishing/Release Information

Author
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Published
2001 Planeta, 2004 Penguin Books
Country of Origin
Spain
Original Language
Spanish
Genre
Fiction/Gothic
Setting
Early-Mid 20th Century Barcelona Spain
Narration
3rd Person Daniel narrates most of the story, with occasional flashback chapters narrated by other characters
Pages
487 (Softcover - American)

Plot Summary of The Shadow of the Wind

Daniel Sempere is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a large labyrinth of forgotten books by his father as a young boy. There, Daniel's father tells him to choose any one book for him to keep and take care of. Daniel chooses a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. After Daniel reads the book he falls in love with Carax's book only to find out that Carax is dead and his books are being destroyed by someone who calls himself Lain Coubert, the primary antagonist in Carax's The Shadow of the Wind.

With the help of his best friend Fermin Romero de Torres, a former homeless person who was previously tortured during the Spanish Civil War by Inspector Fumero, they begin to try to uncover the mystery of Julian Carax's past and demise. As Daniel grows up and comes of age during the novel he discovers similar parallels between his own current living situation and that of Julian Carax.

Major Characters

Character Name
Description
Daniel Sempere
The main character/narrator of the book. Daniel looks into Carax's past while simultaneously trying to figure out who is destroying all of his books.
Julian Carax
The author of The Shadow of the Wind and many other forgotten classics. His books are being destroyed and his past is a mystery.
Fermin Romero de Torres
Daniel's friend and sidekick. He is lifted from hard times by Daniel, and his father and is completely devoted to the both of them. He is a passionate Romantic with a dark past.
Francisco Javier Fumero
Barcelona's corrupt and feared police captain who has a history of commiting heinous crimes.
Clara Barcelo
A blind girl whom Daniel first falls in love with.
Tomas Agular
Daniel's best friend, he's very protective of his sister Bea.
Beatriz Agular
Tomas' sister, she is the catalyst that starts the friendship between Daniel and Tomas. She is engaged to an army officer who supports the Franco regime.

Positive Qualities

Some of the most striking things about this book are the Gothic undertones, the descriptions of Barcelona, and Zafon's love of writing and literature. In many ways the Cemetery of Forgotten books and Daniel's quest to save Carax's novels pays tribute to forgotten authors. The Shadow of the Wind brings to light the fact there are many forgotten books that could have been timeless classics, which in many ways has a subtle haunting effect. Being lost or forgotten to time is one of the key haunting aspects of this book.

Spain's troubled history with its Aristocracy, the Civil War, World War II that followed it, and finally the Franco regime where the majority of the novel is set in, highlights the troubles that plagued Spain in the early through mid 20th century. Fighting for your rights and what you believe in, cowardice and courage, and fighting against corruption are issues that are frequently explored in the novel.

The plot moves quickly, and there are many characters for readers to engage with. Most notably readers will find it easy to hate the twisted Inspector Fumero, while finding the humor in the tortured Romantic Fermin, and of course readers will be hooked to the character gem of this book that is the enigmatic Julian Carax whose mysterious life drives the suspense of this novel forwards. Daniel as a narrator is very easy to relate to as his coming of age experience deals with a lot of universal ideas and themes, for example: love, family, and friendship.

The Not So Positive Qualities

The Shadow of the Wind has many positive qualities, but here are some of the issues with the book that aren't so positive. This book is predictable. It's not entirely predictable but the key plot points can be figured out pretty quickly, and you should be able to piece together most of the major plot points in the novel within the first 100 pages.

Some of the characters are also a bit stale. Carax is great, and having Daniel narrate the story gives the reader a balanced narrator to work with. Daniel's friend Fermin though provides a lot of the comic relief which can be funny, but as a character it feels like the reader is being forced to empathize with him due to his past. Fermin is a love/hate character, you will love him, or you will hate him.

Daniel's father is also a pretty stereotypical good father, and at key points in the novel he does some not so great parenting which contradicts this image. For example why isn't he isn't involving himself more in Daniel's life when Daniel starts running into trouble with the law and with Lain Coubert? It's not his actions that make sense, it's his lack of actions.

The Shadow of the Wind is Recommended to...

This book is recommended to people who like thrillers and suspense in their books, and to those who enjoy a coming of age story. Why are Carax's books being destroyed? What forced Carax to run from Barcelona? How did Carax live and die? These questions put a lot of intrigue and suspense in this book, and if you're looking for a page turner this book will deliver. Daniel's coming of age story juxtaposes nicely with the suspense providing moments of relief at just the right time.

If you're good at figuring out the ending to books, then this book might come off as predictable, but even so it can still be a very enjoyable book. If predictability in books is bothersome, then you may want to reconsider reading this book.

One more quick note: Zafon also pays tribute to the Romantic and Gothic authors of the 19th century throughout the book, so if you enjoy the 19th century classics, this book should also work for you.

Excerpt From The Shadow of the Wind

In order to get a better idea of the prose used in the book, the recurring philosophical ideas, and the tone or feeling of the book here is a short sample of Zafon's writing style. This quote comes from the end of the first chapter/introduction in The Shadow of the Wind, after Daniel has returned from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Here we get a short excerpt of Daniel thinking about this moment when he is older.


"Once, in my father's bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later - no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget - we will return. For me those enchanted pages will always be the ones I found among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books." - Zafon The Shadow of the Wind

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