The Shadow of the Wind
is the most fun you can have with a book! It's got it all: star-crossed lovers (not one pair, but *two*!), a cemetery of forgotten books, and most of all, stories within stories within stories. Each character, no matter how obliquely mentioned, has a detail attached to them, hinting at a hidden and inimitable life. A morgue employee, for instance, a minor character, goes home to a dozen parakeets who have learned to sing the funeral march. These details are almost too strange — or too perfect – to be fiction. With them, Zafón has created a complete, magical world, though not necessarily supernatural. It's more the magic of being able to see into the soul of every character, just for an instant.
The plot is labyrinthine and multi-layered, mainly following young Daniel Sempere as he searches for the truth about Julian Carax, the author of a book, also entitled The Shadow of the Wind
, that he has promised to protect by not letting it be forgotten. Zafón knows, as every contemporary writer does, that the danger with books is no longer that they'll be burned as much as they'll disappear. Daniel is pledged to keep this book alive by adopting it, by reading it, by making sure it is never forgotten. A nice note for our times, but then the book comes into actual danger, and the game is afoot!
The plot employs almost every cliché and soap opera turnabout, but due to Zafón's craft, it's elevated into art. His language is poetic, even purple at times, but as the Times review
points out, he is grounded in a long tradition in Spanish literature, going back to Don Quixote. And what lurks underneath all the smoke and mirrors and mystery is the horror of the Spanish Civil War. It casts its long shadow over the entire narrative: in the scars of Daniel's mentor, Fermin, in the sinister figure of the brutal thug, Inspector Fumero, and even in Daniel's search for the truth of Julian Carax's fate.
Most of all, though, the book is a love letter to readers, those of us who keep books alive by reading them. The Shadow of the Wind
bring us all the joys of reading, high and low, and reminds us why we love reading in the first place. Ultimately, it's not jeremiads and scoldings from the likes of Jonathan Franzen that will shame us into reading again, it's books like this one.