The book’s first person narrator, Daniel Sempere, is ten years old when the story begins in 1950s Barcelona. When young Daniel panics that he is forgetting his deceased mother’s face, his bookstore-owning father decides to distract him by introducing Daniel to the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books,” an underground storage facility where single copies of such books are preserved. Daniel is encouraged to remove one book from the vast library, a book for which he will be forever responsible from that moment onward. He chooses a novel by Julián Carex called The Shadow of the Wind.
Daniel takes his role seriously and decides to find copies of the other books Carex wrote before his violent death on the streets of Barcelona in 1936. He is horrified to learn, however, that the books are impossible to locate because a horribly disfigured man supposedly has been buying them for years with the sole purpose of destroying them. Determined to protect the Carex book in his possession, Daniel becomes obsessed with learning everything he can about Julián Carex. When this mysterious book-burner learns that Daniel owns a copy of The Shadow of the Wind, Daniel’s life – along with that of his father and closest friends – is placed in jeopardy unless he agrees to sell his book to the fiend.
|Carlos Ruiz Zafon|
My problem with The Shadow of the Wind is a “technical” one. I am always willing to suspend my sense of disbelief when I enjoy a story, allowing an author plenty of room to use coincidence and cliché to move a plot forward, as is certainly the case here. What made reading The Shadow of the Wind a chore for me was the author’s insistence on slowing the pace to a near halt several times by inserting secondhand accounts of action that had taken place “off stage.” When I realized the memories being recounted by the book’s characters contained a level of detail - and facts - that the immediate speaker had no way of knowing (either at the time of the actual events or in the present), I began to dread losing my reading momentum to them. Not only does this literary device not work, it is distracting and lessens the impact of the rest of the book - and it is a lazy way to tell a story.
That said, the book does contain one of my favorite passages of all time regarding books and readers:
Every book, every volume you see here has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down it pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.
That thought makes me happy.