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Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Shadow of the Wind
Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2009

Subterranean Press
US Hardcover Limited Edition
ISBN 9-781-5956-06166-8
Publication Date: 12-31-2008
469 Pages; $75
Date Reviewed: 06-22-2009

Index: General Fiction, Horror, Fantasy, Mystery

Books are repositories of memories, sometimes real, sometimes invented. When we read, the experience of reading makes the two equivalent; both the real and the unreal are re-created in the reader's imagination. The best reading experiences are so powerful as to be almost indistinguishable from our memories. We can visit those books in our minds as if the words within were descriptions of our own experiences. What distinguishes those books that become memories from those books that we merely remember is a richness of tone, a language that connects directly to our own emotional states.

There are lots of ways to connect with readers, particularly intense readers who find themselves more captivated by books and reading than others. Mention a book in a book and there is a subset of readers who will follow you anywhere. Mention a library, — or in the case of Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books — and you may have a sort of cult on your hands. 'The Shadow of the Wind' is just the sort of book that mentions books, authors, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and unsurprisingly, the sort of book that inspires cultish infatuation. But don't let this stop you. Mostly, 'The Shadow of the Wind' is a cracking good novel, in a pleasingly old-fashioned sort of way, full of mystery, romance and the city of Barcelona circa 1945. Once you check in, you may not want to check out.

The novel begins when ten-year old Daniel Sempere's father, a used bookseller, takes his son to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There, he takes a novel from the shelves, The Shadow of the Wind, and is told he must guard it for the rest of his life. It seems like an easy assignment until he realizes that someone is out to find and destroy all the books by the author, Julian Carax. Over the years, Daniel investigates the author, falls in love, and finds stories, stories within stories, his own heart and perhaps the heart of Barcelona, if not that of the reading world.

Zafón, translated from the Spanish by Lucia Graves, writes lush prose that is often quite funny. His dry sense of humor offsets his talent for rich, atmospheric descriptions of the city and the hearts of those within. His dialogue is lively and entertaining, but imbued with a sort of gritty sensibility of the streets. There's a twilight vision at work here, and everything is steeped in the hues of a setting or rising sun.

Daniel Sempere and those around him are intricately drawn, and brought to life with the same rich language that turns Barcelona into a place you can visit in your mind. None of them are perfect and there are relationships that don’t work out the way the reader expects. There's a sort of random feeling to web of who cares about who that reeks of our lives, that calls to us on a personal level. You'll feel that the characters of this novel are people you would be proud to call friends.

Of course, all this presumes you fall under Zafón's spell. It's possible to be both charmed and yet impatient with Zafón's style. He writes in a leisurely manner and yet manages to create the pacey feel of a page-turner by virtue of making us care about his characters. He spins plots within plots and tells stories within stories, but in a manner that makes each relationship clearer with every passing page. When you finish the book, the dark complex vision is a shimmeringly new memory.

The Subterranean Press edition is gorgeous book worthy of the content; even those who find themselves underwhelmed are advised to give this edition a look, because the chances are you'll eventually want to read this book, and will manage to find the right space to do so. Vincent Chong's illustrations have the properly gothic feel, and the two-tone printing is delicately used to emphasize the layered sensibilities of the complex narrative. The binding and paper are first rate. Everything about the book enhances the reading experience of this book about books, about memories yet to come.

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