The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafÓn


  • Historical fiction, WWII, post-Spanish Civil War, Spanish architecture
  • Noir, mystery, poetry, literature, translated literature
  • Nostalgia, coming of age, bibliophilic, love & loss, nostalgia

“Without further ado I left the place, finding my route by the marks I had made on the way in. As I walked in the dark through the tunnels and tunnels of books, I could not help being overcome by a sense of sadness. I couldn’t help thinking that if I, by pure chance, had found a whole universe in a single unknown book, buried in that endless necropolis, tens of thousands more would remain unexplored, forgotten forever. I felt myself surrounded by millions of abandoned pages, by worlds and souls without an owner sinking in an ocean of darkness, while the world that throbbed outside the library seemed to be losing its memory, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wiser the more it forgot.”

The debut novel of an amazing talent, Carlos Ruiz ZafÓn is a man who breaths poetry into his work. It is not verbose like the old school gothic novels; it is not pretentious like so many mid-century poets. His works, translated from his native Spanish by the equally talented Lucia Graves, are born of a genuine love of Spain. The history, the culture, the architecture, it is all framed in this almost noir-style narrative about the son of a bookstore owner who unknowingly possess the last copy of a book whose author and legacy have been mysteriously whipped from existence.

Daniel Sempere is just a boy at the time he selects Shadow of the Wind from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in 1945, a time when Spain is still healing from a Civil War and division is a dangerous truth and the world was still reeling from WWII. The book is mystery, thriller, and poetry, trouble begins when he begins using his connections from the bookstore to search for other works by the author. Finding that they were a small batch from a publishing house that mysteriously burned down, the author’s life was tragedy and no one who really knew him seems to be alive or well, and what’s worse the devilish character from within the book seems to be stalking him.

ZafÓn’s voice is poetic, strong, and captivating. The characters are portrayed honestly and fully, at times giving us a voyeuristic glance into their own flaws and pain- they are vibrant and believable. The history of Spain is interlaced within the plot but done in such a way that someone without prior knowledge could surmise the unspoken details and lack nothing of the plot. In some ways, I was intrigued by the details and the things I did not understand. It may spur independent research for some, if not for the political history, for the architecture. He brings Barcelona to life, you breath the fetid mists, tread the cobbled streets, and pass beneath ancient arches of villas and gardens. I wanted to be there walking the streets, and because of the prose- I was.

I should mention that when I say poetry I don’t mean verbose, flowery, trills. I mean rich descriptions, certain words used with proper and subtle contexts. It is taking the time to explore a setting with the wonder and eyes of a child who is seeing it for the first time or who is coming back to a loved house where every stone and corner is marked with memory. If that appeals to you, I highly recommend his works. Shadow of the Wind is the first of a series of books of varying sizes, themes, and plots; though any of them could be read singularly. As I read through them I know I will be happy to glimpse old friends and intimate bookstores.

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