books & reading reviews spring reading thing 2011

I Read: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafonThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón was my book club’s pick for our March meeting – it’s a great example of one of those amazing books that I never would have read if our club hadn’t picked it.

The description on the back of the book is just vague enough and head scratch inducing that I might have passed it by – if I ever even picked it up – It likely would never have made it on my radar, but I’m so glad that it did.

This is one of the reasons that I enjoy our book club so much – no matter how much I read, there are so many amazing books that I might never have picked myself – books like this one, which I now feel compelled to add to my small list of “favorites”.

So to anyone considering joining a book club either online or in your neighborhood, I definitely recommend giving it a try – you’ll read a few duds, for sure, but also some amazing new stories that you may miss out on otherwise!

I feel like I could never possibly describe this book to justice, so I’m going to quote the blurb from Publishers’ Weekly that I found on

…The time is the 1950s; the place, Barcelona. Daniel Sempere, the son of a widowed bookstore owner, is 10 when he discovers a novel, The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax. The novel is rare, the author obscure, and rumors tell of a horribly disfigured man who has been burning every copy he can find of Carax’s novels. The man calls himself Laín Coubert-the name of the devil in one of Carax’s novels. As he grows up, Daniel’s fascination with the mysterious Carax links him to a blind femme fatale with a “porcelain gaze,” Clara Barceló; another fan, a leftist jack-of-all-trades, Fermín Romero de Torres; his best friend’s sister, the delectable Beatriz Aguilar; and, as he begins investigating the life and death of Carax, a cast of characters with secrets to hide. Officially, Carax’s dead body was dumped in an alley in 1936. But discrepancies in this story surface. Meanwhile, Daniel and Fermín are being harried by a sadistic policeman, Carax’s childhood friend. As Daniel’s quest continues, frightening parallels between his own life and Carax’s begin to emerge…

I, quite simply, adored this novel. I found the descriptions beautifully executed – where often a book with constant detail borders on being tedious to me, this book felt expertly crafted. Nearly every sentence felt beautiful to me, which I found even more impressive given that (I believe) the book was actually originally written in Spanish. If the translation is this good, I can only imagine that the original Spanish version must be even better.

This book transports you to another place and time, but somehow feels current as it looks back on even older times. I loved the descriptions and references of television and movies, which had really just come into use when the book takes place. The main characters speculate on whether books can survive the invention of the television and whether or not tv and movies are a great thing or a terrible thing – an argument that still takes place today.

This novel is about so many things – it is really a mammoth of a story, where Zafon takes his time to tell seemingly every story and quaint thought he’s ever had, but somehow managed to do it brilliantly, in my opinion. You get a little bit of everything here – gothic, dark descriptions, a massive cast of characters, each with their own secrets and stories – the book is peppered with life lessons and ruminations, ridiculous humor, heart breaking turns of events and moments of hope in the middle of despair. I found it gritty and depressing and yet breath taking and filled with a sense that “maybe things can still work out” even when it seems unlikely, or even impossible.

I sort of want everyone I know to read this book, basically, so that we can all sit and dwell on it together – luckily I got to do just that last night when my book club met to discuss the book. It seemed the majority of our members also really enjoyed this story, in fact I heard very few negative comments, in a club that is usually divided on book tastes. So I feel somewhat confident in recommending this book to anyone.

I read The Shadow of the Wind on my Kindle and I have to say I really liked being able to look up words that I didn’t understand, mostly older words and Spanish references that would have been lost on me otherwise. I probably would have been fine reading it in paper form and just inferring meanings from context, but I think this was a good book to read in it’s e-version for that reason, though I saw some nice illustrations in a paperback copy that another member had purchased of simple maps of the area, which I have to admit would have been really handy to use as a reference while reading.