Well, I just finished Carlos Ruiz Zafon's incredible The Shadow of the Wind sitting on the waterfront in Tampere, Finland, and I'm speechless. I wanted to write my review while the reading experience was still fresh in my mind, even though I'm not sure if I'll get to fire it off tonight. With no regular internet access, I can't truly collect my thoughts and write the sort of book review this novel deserves, yet hopefully my usual drivel will manage to intrigue those who have not read it enough to give it a shot. Simply put, The Shadow of the Wind is one of the very best books I have ever read.
As crazy as it sounds, Zafon's novel spent an unbelievable five years on the Spanish bestseller list. But once you get sucked into this convoluted tale, it's easy to understand why. Truth to tell, I find it hard to believe that the English translation hasn't been more popular. Indeed, this is the sort of book which has mass appeal and which should be as popular as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Alas, that is not to be. . .
Zafon's post-war Barcelona setting offers a wealth of insight into those troubles times. The author's evocative prose effortlessly transports the reader into that rich milieu, and at times it feels as though the city becomes a character in and of itself. Zafon brings Barcelona alive in a manner that few others have been able to do with any city. Those who have been to Barcelona will once again fall in love with the city and wish to visit it again, while those who have never been there will feel the need to rectify the situation.
The characterization is head and shoulder above basically everything one can find on the shelves of bookstores worldwide. I don't know how Zafon does it, but in a few short sentences he can introduce you to a character who possesses so much depth and personality. Somehow, the author says more in a paragraph than most writers manage to convey in a chapter. Basically every single character, be it Daniel, his father, Fermin, Bernada, Clara, Francisco Javier Fumero, or any of the other deeply-realized men and women populating The Shadow of the Wind, come alive and leap of the pages.
A lot has been said about the novel's complex and multilayered plot. When Stephen King claims that even the subplots have subplots, you better believe it. Still, no matter how deftly plotted the book turns out to be (and you have no idea how intricate the storylines turn out to be), it's the way so many of those plotlines are touching that makes reading this novel such an unforgettable experience. Zafon writes with intelligence, humor, wit, and a dexterous human touch that will warm your heart one moment, and break it the next.
I'd like to believe that it's pretty difficult for an author to really move me. Yet The Shadow of the Wind made me go through a panoply of emotions. At times funny, frightening, tragic, and moving, follow young Daniel on his quest to find out who is systematically destroying all the works of an obscure author, one Julian Carax. When he starts to dig, looking for clues of what could have happened to the French writer, Daniel uncovers a web of secrets with love and betrayal at its heart.
It's hard to summarize this novel in a nutshell. But if I could sum it up with a single word, it would have to be amazing.
I've been cursing myself for knowing just enough Spanish to order myself a beer and ask where the toilets are. Which means that I am now forced to wait to the English translation of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's newest work.
The Shadow of the Wind deserves the highest possible recommendation.:-) A future classic, if ever there was one. . .
The final verdict: 10/10