A few romantics in this world still believe a book can change a life. Spanish writer Zafón’s debut novel tells the story of Daniel Sempere, a Barcelona boy whose discovery and subsequent love of a mystery novel embroils him in a mystery of his own. He encounters the influential tome, The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax, in a mystical labyrinth called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in 1945, and soon becomes fascinated with its author. When the adult Daniel investigates Carax’s life, he finds whirlwind romance, supernatural intrigue, and the political strife left over from the Spanish Civil War. The result is a mix of fantasy and reality in which the written word exerts its power on an unforgiving world.
Penguin. 486 pages. $24.95.
"What may feel unreal or mythic to the reader is actually the creative rendering of a very specific time and place, now gone, utterly transformed by the in-rush of all that had been held out. … It’s a mesmerizing read that swallowed this reader’s soul…" Maya Muir
NY Times Book Review
"His novel eddies in currents of passion, revenge and mysteries whose layers peel away onionlike yet persist in growing back. … We are taken on a wild ride—for a ride, we may occasionally feel—that executes its hairpin bends with breathtaking lurches." Richard Eder
San Jose Mercury News
"This is one of those books in which characters spill secrets by delivering long speeches or leaving behind manuscripts full of scenes and dialogue that they couldn’t actually have heard or witnessed. And you don’t really mind these violations of narrative credibility, because it’s obvious that Zafón is having fun, that he’s intentionally camping things up." Charles Matthews
"If you love A.S. Byatt’s Possession, García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the short stories of Borges, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas or Paul Auster’s New York trilogy, not to mention Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and William HJortsberg’s Falling Angel, then you will love The Shadow of the Wind." Michael Dirda
Los Angeles Times
"The compulsive fascination of Zafón’s plot keeps bumping up against the implausibility of its context and background. … Never mind the improbabilities: the reader gets hooked by Daniel’s strange odyssey and the innumerable offbeat characters he encounters along the way." Peter Green
San Diego Union-Tribune
"The Shadow of the Wind [is] a deeply flawed creation. Above all, Ruiz Zafón’s addiction to figurative language is the culprit." Gregory Miller
San Francisco Chronicle
"… a tiring, meandering tale. … [Daniel] is constantly pushing open doors into dank, dusty, foul-smelling mansions and crumbling monasteries, where he stumbles around in the dark, looking for clues, an experience the reader will well relate to." Jennie Yabroff
Critics cannot resist comparing Zafón to past literary luminaries, from Gabriel Garcia Márquez to Charles Dickens. The comparisons are apt; like the works of these and other important writers, The Shadow of the Wind, an international bestseller, provokes heated debate. Some critics decry its often improbable plot and dramatic language as overwrought and tedious, while others laud these characteristics as essential to producing the novel’s particular world. This world, neither realistic enough for credibility nor fully fantastical, strikes some as a poor combination. Yet several critics praise the mix as an effective rendering of the fractured logic of postwar Spain. And Zafón’s belief in the power of literature is infectious. His debut may be easy to criticize, but it’s difficult to ignore.
Elsewhere in this Issue
Codex | Lev Grossman (2004): , page 50. A page-turning literary thriller that merges bibliographic mystery and virtual reality.