I'm always apprehensive when a book is a translation. I've read some that just lose so much that it nearly ruins the experience (The Reader leaps immediately to mind). That was not the case with The Shadow of the Wind--in fact, as I was reading it I forgot very quickly that it was a work from Spanish to English. So my hat is off to Lucia Graves, the translator.
I love books about books, and this was no exception. Carlos Ruiz Zafon draws many parallels between the main character and the character in a book that is pivotal to the plot, also called The Shadow of the Wind. As the parallels became clear to me, I began to wonder if other parallel lines were being drawn as well, keeping me constantly guessing as to where the plot was taking me. I love books that can do that!
Daniel is a young boy when the story begins. His father is a book antiquarian who takes him to a mysterious place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He tells Daniel that he now has the responsibility for choosing a book that he will watch over. Daniel chooses The Shadow of the Wind. He reads the book and is fascinated. He wants to read more by the author, but he begins to discover that someone is traveling around Barcelona destroying every book written by the author. Daniel becomes more determined to learn more and to save his book.
Set in Spain after the Spanish Civil War, Ruiz Zafon paints a vivid picture of the time and place for the story to unfold. I also found the secondary characters in this book richly developed--they all seemed real to me, with the exception of a certain blind girl for whom Daniel has a young man's attraction. I also liked how the neighborhood and the neighbors in the book were drawn. I liked the way that they forged alliances and helped one another.
The setting for the book was very vivid--I thought it was very cool to have a map in the back of the book. Others in my book club said their versions of the book didn't have the map, so be on the lookout. It showed photos of real places with indicators where the fictional ones would be. If I were to find myself in Barcelona, I would want to take that walking tour.
One character whom Daniel encounters, and who is aided by Daniel and his father, is Fermin. He was hands down my favorite character--I loved his resilience, his wit, and his insights. I liked the way he took Daniel under his wing, even though Daniel and his father were really his deliverers. He showed Daniel what being brave was all about, taught Daniel how to be a man (in many senses of the word), and wore his heart on his sleeve.
You know that the book is taking you to some creepy, tragic places, as any good gothic novel should, but I never guessed where they were going, so full points to Ruiz Zafon for not being predictable. It was a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience--the best pick from my book club since I joined.
I understand that there's a prequel to the book scheduled for release in English in Spring 2009. It's called The Angel's Game. I'll have to check it out.
Do you have a favorite book about books? Please share--Chris and I plan to have a section devoted just to that when we get our companion website up and running.