The Shadow of the Wind
Author – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Pages: 487 pages
Release Date: January 25, 2005
Years ago, when I last travelled through Europe, standing in the middle of a bustling bookstore in a Cologne train station, I held a copy of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind in my hands. I contemplated it, having heard the first rumblings of the novel and its quality. I ended up putting it back on the shelf, not purchasing it. Ever since that day, I regretted not reading it on that trip, and so when it came time to hit the train stations of Europe, I made sure to bring a copy with me.
This time, as my train trundled its slow way through the quaint, rolling hills of northern Slovakia, I was gazing out the window, The Shadow of the Wind resting on the seat beside me.
“Ahh, I’ve read that one,” says the young man across from me, broken English tumbling its way inelegantly through his thick accent. “Museum of Forgotten Books, right?”
“Yeah,” I said, encouraged by his enthusiasm.
“It’s good. A good book,” he said.
The young fellow on the train may have had the name of the fabled Cemetery of Forgotten Books wrong (though it could have been lost in the Slovakian translation), but he certainly got one thing right – The Shadow of the Wind is a good book. A very good book.
Lonely. Heart Warming. Erotic. Horrifying. Charming. Grave. Beautiful. Tragic. Passionate. Each of these words, though vastly different, describe The Shadow of the Wind accurately. A book with layers upon layers, Zafon has you chuckling one moment, terrified the next and stupefied right after. Zafon handles each and every emotion with the utmost care and juggles the reader perfectly, never letting them get overwhelmed, but never quite comfortable with the story either. The result are pages that simple fly by. The problem, though, is that I just didn’t want it to end.
One of the reasons I put The Shadow of the Wind back on the shelf of that German bookstore was that I was worried about the translation. Could a translated work possibly hold the same level of quality as the original language, or that of a novel written natively in English? I had my doubts, but almost immediately upon finally picking up The Shadow of the Wind, my doubts were not only allayed, but completely obliterated. Lucia Graves (daughter of Robert Graves, poet) deserves all the accolades in the world. The rambling prose is buttery smooth, and simply a joy to read. Zafon’s control over language, description and character is preserved by Graves and I can’t imagine how the novel could be any better even in its native language.
The Shadow of the Wind is a novel that challenges its readers, but never overwhelms them. The mysteries of the story always seem tantalizingly close, but still out of reach. Each time the reader thinks they have a grasp on those mysteries hidden in the works of Julian Carax, Zafon pulls the rug out from under them and leaves them wondering what happened. Zafon juggles the reader all the way to the satisfying, melancholy ending. By the time the last page is turned, the characters are no longer words in a novel, but real people – Daniel Sempere, Fermin Romero de Torres, Nuria Monfort, and even (for better or for worse) Francisco Javier Fumero are a part of my life now, and, I’m certain, will stay with me for a very long time.
Certainly the best novel I’ve read this year, The Shadow of the Wind may very well be my favourite novel I’ve ever read. Zafon’s haunting tale of love, lust, revenge and friendship has everything I could want from a novel and more. It’s not often that a novel can actually live up to the hype surrounding it; it’s even less often when a novel can surpass that hype, but that is exactly what The Shadow of the Wind accomplished. I eagerly await the English translation of El Juego del Angel.