The Shadow of the Wind


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

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

26 commentaires:

Larry said...

If it's any consolation, Pat, the book has sold 10 million copies worldwide, 1 million of which was in the UK and around 2 million in the US, so it has been one of the best-selling books of this decade. I was thrilled when I was asked to write a 600 word review of its sequel for Amazon, since that meant I got to read The Angel's Game in the original Spanish weeks before anyone else in the US and less than two weeks after its debut in Spain. 1 million copies printed for Spain alone. Incredible.

The way I see it, you have a few months to learn more Spanish. The sequel is darker, more mysterious, and at least as good. Right now, it's one of the odds-on favorites to be my #1 selection for Best Novel of 2008.

Shawn C. Speakman said...

Easily my favorite book in the last 10 years. Easily. I've tried getting hundreds of people online to read it with only marginal success. They truly do not know what they are missing.

I can't wait for The Angel's Game. It is out in Spain but won't be translated until April 2009 or so. As far as I can tell, April 2009 is going to be the best month for releases next year!

Nice to see you review it Pat. It's a work of beautiful genius. If Larry is right and its sequel is just as good... well... Zafon belongs in the category of true master in this century -- and that's no embellishment at all.

Larry said...

A writer never forgets the first time that he accepts some money or praise in exchange for a story. He never forgets the first time that he feels the sweet venom of vanity in his blood, and he believes that if he manages that no one discovers his lack of talent the literary dream will be capable of placing a roof over his head, a hot plate for the end of the day and his deepest yearning: his name impressed on a miserable piece of paper which surely will survive longer than he. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is lost and his soul has a price.

That's the opening paragraph for The Angel's Game, or at least my translation of it. That paragraph contains the theme of the book. Sound promising, Shawn, others? :D And since I spoke of the book, here's the mini-review of it. Hopefully this will help in getting others more interested in this fine novel.

Maurice said...

Damn, talk about 'Buzz' and raising expectations!

myshkin said...

Wow, nice review Pat. I've already got this book on my TBR pile since Larry has been talking it up so much lately, but now it seems I'm gonna have to move it up a few spots.

Larry, who would you most compare Zafon's tone and style to?

Robert said...

I know Larry's been praising this author for a while now, but I didn't really know what I was missing until Liviu sent me the ebook and I had a chance to sample The Shadow of the Wind. Very impressive :) I'll definitely be picking up a copy...

Mike Toot said...

Subterranean Press is coming out with a beautiful limited edition of SotW. Can't wait to get my hands on it.

Larry said...

Style? Hrmm...more like a slightly more-refined Arturo Pérez-Reverte, who himself shares many similarities with Alexandre Dumas in the pacing and the quick character sketches. It's hard for me to do the comparisons, since I've never read Zafón in English, only in Spanish and structure of the sentences in Spanish is a bit different. Many other reviewers have noted the "19th century" feel to the story, so perhaps that might help?

Larry said...

Mike,

That is tempting indeed, even if I rather have it in the original Spanish. Still, Zafón himself signing it? Hrmm...I have always wanted to get my family to read the story, just never bought it for them in English...

Shawn C. Speakman said...

I've ordered my copy from SubPress already. Can't wait to get it!

Jeff said...

Great review! This is one of my favorite novels, probably on the top 5 of all time list for me. It's not only a perfectly tuned melodrama, but it's a great bit of metatext about being a bibliophile. Absolutely everybody should read it.

My Spanish is a bit rusty, but I really am considering picking The Angel's Game up early instead of waiting for the english translation.

pacamanca said...

Oh man, larry, now I can't wait to get to Barcelona by the end of the month and get myself the new book!

I really like Péres-Reverte as well, but have only read a couple of his books. Do you recommend anything in particular?

(I'm beginning to see that not paying for check-in luggage with Ryan Air for this trip was probably a mistake... How many books does it take to reach the weight limit of your hand luggage? ;)

Larry said...

I've only read a few of his books as well. The Queen of the South was quite entertaining, and his Alatriste novels are near-direct descendants of Dumas' Muskateers novels. Haven't read his The Dumas Club yet, though, but I've heard good things about it.

As for books/weight, it'll be about 1.5-2 lbs. or near 1 kg for the Zafón book, as it's almost 700 pages.

Dark Wolf said...

I recently read Carlos Ruiz Zafon's novel and it was an absolutely marvelous experience. The novel is impressive and since you mentioned Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code", I'll say with all the respect for Dan Brown, he would wish to write as Zafon does. As for publicity in Romania for instance it was inexistent. And you should see what other weaker novels get in this field.

As for Arturo Perez-Reverte, I would recommend his first novel too, "The Hussar". It's a historical fiction and it catches the atmosphere in the Napoleon era pretty good.

pacamanca said...

larry, the Dumas Club is very good. And thank you for the weight tip. I guess I'll just have to pack less clothes then :)

Cheers to all
leticia

Larry said...

I'll keep that in mind and see if the Spanish edition is available :D

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat
It was great to read your reviews of Shadow of the Wind. The book was a HUGE success in the UK and sold over 1.3 million copies in the UK alone so it was a huge bestseller here and stayed in the bestseller chart for over a year!

Patrick said...

The point I was trying to make is the fact that the book was a hit in literary circles. And yet, it never transcended beyond the way Dan Brown and J. K. Rowling have. Given its potential mass appeal, I wonder why that is. . .

Larry said...

Pat,

Most books never sell 100K, so for Zafón's to sell in the low millions in the UK and US is huge. It got quite a bit of coverage 4-5 years ago and I seem to recall hearing a rumor that it might be considered for Oprah's Book Club...

RobB said...

Is this your first 10/10?

Larry said...

I thought he gave that to Martin's SoS and maybe Erikson's MoI. I wonder if he'll now buy a Spanish/French/English dictionary to read the follow-up :P

screech said...

I thought of getting the Subterranean edition but I'm not a big fan of the cover.

I prefer the UK Illustrated Edition cover.

Patrick said...

Rob: No, there has been a few. GRRM's A STORM OF SWORDS and ERIKSON's MEMORIES OF ICE come to mind, as Larry mentioned. But I remember that there were a couple more. . .

Adam Whitehead said...

Yup, the book's been pretty huge with approximately 1/3 the sales of The Da Vinci Code, which isn't too bad. This one is on my to buy list.

Edgar said...

Wow Pat! I've been following your blog for about a year now and I came to trust your reviews, so I went out and bought a Spanish edition (I live in Argentina). So far the books reads itself quite easily, while at the same time it seems very deep and the characters are colorful and with lots of spirit. Thanks for reviewing it!

Anonymous said...

Fool's Fate got a 10 as well.