Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

At last, yes, at last! It was finito! What a read it was. Honestly, I thought it was never going to end, that the saga beginning in 1945, after the Civil War in Spain, was just too dragging and too detailed for my sensitive soul. Emotionally I shut down around the halfway mark, hanging onto the picturesque, descriptive prose for dear life, sensing a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Good lordie, miss molly, good gracious my angel, good heavens dear father! What a journey it was through the antique bookshop in Barcelona on Calle Santa Anna, to the streets of the city where the memories spilled like blood flowing like rain water though the gutters, where souls got ripped, raped and destroyed by the brutality of the war.

Nothing feeds forgetfulness better than war, Daniel. We all keep quiet and they try to convince us that what we’ve seen, what we’ve done, what we’ve learned about ourselves and about others, is an illusion, a passing nightmare. Wars have no memory, and nobody has the courage to understand them until there are no voices left to tell what happened, until the moment comes when we no longer recognize them and they return, with another face and another name, to devour what they left behind.

1945. Barcelona Spain. It was a book, Shadows of the Wind by one Julián Carax, which brought the history alive for young Daniel. Not because it was explained in the book, but because through mysterious events after reading the book. It was a rare book, which reverberated quickly through the echoe chambers of the world of book collectors. It immediately draw attention as the last book of the author. Daniel Sempere made a promise never to tell where he he found it and protect it as his most precious possession.

Daniel's father: This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, hidden behind heavy bolted doors and high walls, brought voices alive of authors passed and present, who needed their story discovered and told. 

Brave, curious, but innocent, ten-year-old Daniel Sempere did not foresee the consequences when he opened that particular book to read. Nor could the effect it would have on him and his father's life be calculated.

Clara: I had never known the pleasure of reading, of exploring the recesses of the soul, of letting myself be carried away by imagination, beauty, and the mystery of fiction and language. For me all those things were born with that novel.

And so it was for Daniel as well. 

People populated Daniel's life from different walks of life. His journey to become a man, would cross paths with villains and angels; carers and destroyers. His life would forever be connected to those who survived the manslaughter of war.
When peace finally came, it smelled of the sort of peace that haunts prisons and cemeteries, a shroud of silence and shame that rots one’s soul and never goes away.

Along the way, a pathos and empathy grew for the people who managed to survive. A tragicomedy, a suspense thriller, a historical fictional tale - a culmination of the voices and ambiance in books such as: 
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez; 
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières; 
The Time in Between by María Dueñas; 
Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom; 
Picasso's War by Russell Martin; 
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
The Return by Victoria Hislop
The Perfume Garden by Kate Lord Brown

Diction, motivation, actions - it all flows along the prose adding context to bravery and courage, unlocking the strange chain of destiny between them. To these people, hope was cruel, it had no conscious, and words were sometimes better of in their prison of memories. Daniel had the power to keep these voice on paper alive, to allow them to be remembered.

And then there is the backdrop of love in all its despicable, deceiving, destructive or honorable definitions. It meanders trough the labyrinth of the The Cemetery of Forgotten Books as well as the lives of the people who survived to tell their stories to Daniel. It was a constant reminder of what makes us all vulnerable and victorious in life. For Daniel, it was a fast, uncompromising road to adulthood in which no secrets remained hidden. For those who wanted to share their tales, words became a sort of melancholic revenge.

Nurieta Monford:  I began to dress like a pious widow or one of those women who seem to confuse sunlight with mortal sin. I went to work with my hair drawn back into a bun and no makeup. Despite my tactics, Sanmartí continued to shower me with lascivious remarks accompanied by his oily, putrid smile. It was a smile full of disdain, typical of self-important jerks who hang like stuffed sausages from the top of all corporate ladders.

While the first snow of winter dropped like tears of light on the Plaza de Cataluña, an old man, trying to catch the snow with his gloves, wished Daniel good luck, his eyes the color of gold, like magic coins at the bottom of a fountain. What else could Daniel do but clung to the blessing and run ...

The thing about words is that it takes us prisoner when rolled out by experienced wordsmiths. This is one of those moments, although I must admit that only the beginning chapters, almost to the middle, and the last third of the book finally captured me beyond imagination. I almost gave up, but the magic in the prose propelled me forward. Relentlessly.

I just realized why not anyone can write a book, but why everyone, like yours truly, can get lost in the melody flowing from the magical alphabetic strings, the symbiotic sounds of voices on paper. Sometimes it is this music that kept me reading, surpassing the moral of the story. The quality of thought and execution in this novel confirmed the addiction of words and books.

Humor and hope are strange bedfellows. It may manifest in the intimations of paradise ... a last dance with Eros ... 

Happiness in every which way had a purpose, even in galleries of despair, even softened by ecumenical disguise. Sincere laughter came. In 1966 it all made finally sense to Daniel Sempere. Doom and gloom have a counterbalance. A very good one. All it needed was time. And good readers to follow the light to the last full stop of the tale. 

The end.

Read this comprehensive and excellent biography of the author at

Classic Spanish Books