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Monday, February 25, 2013

The Shadow of the Wind: A Review

Rarely will a novel be critically acclaimed, a huge commercial bestseller and a cult classic, yet Carlos Ruiz Zafon accomplished this literary hat trick with his novel The Shadow of the Wind. First released in Spanish in 2001, and translated into English in 2004, The Shadow of the Wind is the first of a series of four planned novels revolving around the city of Barcelona (The Angel's Game and The Prisoner of Heaven are the second and third installments, respectively). To date, the novel has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide, and the most common reaction of readers was that they were sad to see the story end. It is one of those books you wish would go on for another 500 pages, and one you buy multiple copies of to give to friends (I gave away a copy just last week).

The novel is the story of Daniel Sempere, who at age 10 is taken by his father, a Barcelona bookseller, to the amazing Cemetery of Forgotten Books. While there he chooses a book called "The Shadow of the Wind" by Julian Carax. He is so enthralled by the novel that as he enters adulthood he sets out to find every book Carax has written, but encounters a sinister obstacle. Every copy of every book the author has written is being tracked down and burned by a disfigured man who bears a striking resemblance to a character in Carax's novel. Daniel's quest to save the remaining copies is intertwined with the story of Barcelona and its recovery from the Spanish Civil War.

But The Shadow of the Wind is much more than a literary mystery. It is a Gothic masterpiece, filled with action, romance, mystery and, of course, books. One reviewer has called it a "love letter to books," because it examines the power of books to change our lives in ways we often don't even realize. One quote from the novel sums this up:

"Every book 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."

This is not something we often consider in our electronic, Kindle e-book reader world. Books, real ink and paper books, matter. They challenge us to examine our inner selves and the world around us, and they can change us, hopefully for the better, while at the same time being a tangible creation, a contract of sorts between writer and reader. The Shadow of the Wind is such a book. It is a novel with a very strong soul, and books like this don't come around nearly often enough. It is a modern-day classic that everyone should read.

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