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It is fitting that Carlos Ruiz Zafon spent some time in Hollywood as a scriptwriter not just because of the cinematic quality of several of the scenes in this novel but because it fairly begs to be pitched like a movie project. Here's just one such description you might offer: it's like Charles Dickens and Umberto Eco collaborated on a cross between Les Miserables and the Da Vinci Code set in Barcelona!

Meanwhile, here's how Mr. Zafon describes it within the text:
"Didn't you tell me the other day that what you like to do is read?"

Bea nodded, arching her eyebrows.

"Well, this is a story about books."

"About books?"

"About accursed books, about the man who wrote them, about a character who broke out of the pages of a novel so that he could burn it, about a betrayal and a lost friendship. It's a story of love, of hatred, and of the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind."

"You talk like the jacket blurb of a Victorian novel, Daniel."
And it does have the flavor of a Victorian gothic.

The plot involves a young man, Daniel Sempere, in 1950s Spain, whose widower father takes him to the mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There he finds a novel, The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax, an author whose tragic story becomes the obsession of Daniel's own life.

Not that Carax was ever a bestseller during his heyday, but it turns out that a horribly scarred man who has adopted the name of one of his characters is tracking down all extant copies of his novels and burning them. As Daniel investigates he is brought into contact with Carax's old friends and lovers and a vicious police officer who has hated the author since they were schoolchildren together. Daniel is helped by a homeless man he rescues, Fermín Romero de Torres, who is likewise a nemesis of that policeman, and by Beatriz, the beautiful sister of one of his friend's, with whom he acts out a romance that is hauntingly similar to the one that ruined Carax's life.

As you can see, there's a lot going on here and Mr. Zafon does an uneven job of keeping the plates all spinning. The gothic elements are intriguing, but exhausting. There's such an atmosphere of dread that it becomes kind of oppressive. The love of books and reading is a welcome theme, but it is never really made clear to us why Carax should be considered a great author, one worth all this agita. Barcelona itself is nearly a character in the novel and it seems a wonderful place, but it is in fact such a lively and decent locale that it's hard to credit the anti-Franco tenor of the book, especially when you consider what the cities of Europe that succumbed to Communism instead of producing a France were like in the 50s. And, perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the book, the more we find out about Carax the less worthy of our regard he seems. In the end, the reader is likely to admire Mr. Zafon's ambition and some of the set scenes but to come away a tad disappointed by the work as a whole.


Grade: (B-)


See also:

Carlos Zafon Links:

    -FILMOGRAPHY: Carlos Ruiz Zafon (
    -Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Wikipedia)
    -EXCERPT: First Chapter from Shadow of the Wind - The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Leonard Lopate Show, 1/31/05)
    -PROFILE: The shadow maker: The runaway international success of ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ has made Carlos Ruiz Zafón rich, sought-after and deeply uneasy. (Nigel Farndale, 11/27/05, Daily Telegraph)
    -PROFILE: Zafon Myth Maker: After ten years in LA working as a scriptwriter Carlos Ruiz Zafón returns to Barcelona, the city he mythologises in his novel 'The Shadow of the Wind', already a phenomenal international success. He talks to John Lish about Barcelona, the world, the universe and everything. (John Lish, BCN Insider)
    -INTERVIEW: Gone With The Wind (Library Journal, March 1, 2004)
    -PROFILE: Spain's answer to The Da Vinci Code: Carlos Ruiz Zafon's complex thriller 'The Shadow of the Wind' has proved a runaway, word-of-mouth success across Europe in the same way as 'The Da Vinci Code'. On the eve of World Books Day, April 23, Graham Keeley followed the route of this complex thriller through the streets of Barcelona. (Graham Keeley, April 2005, Expatica)
    -INTERVIEW: Carlos Ruiz Zafón: Ruiz Zafon not worried about trying to duplicate success (13/JUN/2006, America Reads Spanish)
    -Granta: Carlos Ruiz Zafón
    -ARCHIVES: "Carlos Ruiz Zafon" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Richard Eder, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (ROBERT WEIBEZAHL, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Adam Lively, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Michael Kerrigan, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Robert Colville, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Juliette Hughes, The Age)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Andrew Riemer, Sydney Morning Herald)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Donna Bird, Green Man Review)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Kirran Shah, Nouse)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Gregory Miller, San Diego Union-Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Rediff)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Jennie Yabroff, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Zachary Houle, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Marie Hashima Lofton, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Literature Review)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Nancy Fontaine, BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Wind (Salon)

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