Carlos Ruiz Zafon: Shadow of the Wind (Penguin Press)

It's no wonder Shadow of the Wind created an addictive phenomenon known as "Zafonmania" in its native Spain and throughout Europe when first published in hardback in 2001. Penguin has just published the paperback edition, giving new juice to the mystery/adventure/romance/coming-of-age bombshell.

 

 

(487 pgs, $15 )

In Shadow of the Wind, novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafon has truly stacked the deck. How can a reader resist a labyrinthine library called the "cemetery of forgotten books"; the devil himself springing to life from the pages of a gothic novel; a boy's tormented crush on a young, alabaster-skinned blind woman; a curse that revisits a new cast of characters after 30 years; and various secret rendezvous, bloody beatings, cross-dressers and prostitutes obsessed with chocolate pastries?

It's no wonder Shadow of the Wind created an addictive phenomenon known as "Zafonmania" in its native Spain and throughout Europe when first published in hardback in 2001. Penguin has just published the paperback edition, giving new juice to the mystery/adventure/romance/coming-of-age bombshell.

The story concerns 10-year-old Daniel, who discovers a wondrous novel (which also happens to be called Shadow of the Wind) in a secret library for obsessive bibliophiles in Barcelona, 1945. The novel-within-the-novel is as rare as it is enthralling; apparently, a disfigured man who has named himself after the book's villain wanders the nighttime streets, hunting down any and all books by the author, Julian Carax, and burning them. Daniel bravely and foolishly refuses to sell the book to this monster with a scarred face. As the boy grows up, he becomes more and more curious about the book, its author, and the curse that seems to damn anyone connected to Carax.

Along the way, Zafon gives us Daniel's forbidden love affair with a girl promised to another, a relationship with a sinister parallel in Carax's own doomed love life. The young lovers tryst in a crumbling mansion with an unholy secret in the cellar mausoleum.

A cast of funky characters is highlighted by Daniel's co-conspirator, the garrulous Fermin, who is prone to busting out with such earthy zingers as "Then, please, sire, could you get to the frigging point? Because with all this metaphorical spin and flourish, I'm beginning to feel a fiery bowel movement at the gates."

Amid the (fiery) magic, there are a few missteps. The reader may tire of the Spanish passion that infuses every plot point, smoldering glance and breakfast roll. Surely there must be a few interactions among the people of Barcelona that aren't drenched in high drama. The mystery's MacGuffin, like other plot devices here, takes the form of a long letter; the effect is too passive-events are described rather than lived, and tangential tales slow down the action. Also, late in the novel, Zafon has Daniel inform the reader that "in seven days I would be dead"-a hackneyed, unnecessary gimmick.

Still, these transgressions are minor. By the time the wild climax approaches, many readers will find that it's 3 a.m., but there's just no stopping now-they can't put down the book until they've finished it.

-Byron Kerman

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply