Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Recently while discussing books someone mentioned to me that she likes to read, but she prefers books without too many characters and plot that isn't too complicated.  I nodded and smiled politely while thinking books like those would never keep my attention.  Now for the life of me, I cannot remember with whom I was having this conversation, so I certainly hope it wasn't you, but the point is that this book would not have been for her.

I know that I have been talking lately as if every book that I read is the best book I've ever read.  I am loving His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman and The Night Circus is so wonderful, but I've also read a few lately that I haven't loved, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour for instance.  However, this month's book club book, The Shadow of the Wind  by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, is absolutely amazing.  As a matter of fact, when this book was mentioned in a previous book club meeting, one club member enthusiastically labeled it "F'ing Amazing."  And I can't help but agree. 

A gothic novel set in Barcelona, Spain in the 1950's, The Shadow of the Wind  revolves around Daniel Sempere.  At the beginning of the novel, Daniel is a ten-year-old boy who is missing his mother.  To distract him, Daniel's father takes him to a secret place, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  Daniel's father instructs him to pick any book and then to become that book's caretaker.  Daniel takes his book home and reads straight through the night.  He is mesmerized by the book and resolves to find out everything he can about the author.  That is easier said than done and so begins a great mystery that will follow him for years.  I won't say more because it would just be wrong to ruin such an excellent story.

Ruiz Zafon is a brilliant story teller.  I am amazed at such talent.  The language is sensational, allowing the reader to fully immerse herself in Daniel's world.  Just the first example of many that I marked:  "Six years later my mother's absence remained in the air around us, a deafening silence that I had not yet learned to stifle with words."  I marked so many passages that stood out like poetry to me that if I listed them all, you would have read half the book already. 

I adore the focus on the allure and importance of books.  Obviously I am rather fond of books and Ruiz Zafon seems to understand how I feel.  After reading his book for the first time, an exhausted Daniel says, "My eyes began to close, but I resisted.  I did not want to lose the story's spell or bid farewell to it's characters yet."  When I finished reading this book well after midnight, it took me a good hour to finally fall asleep and then my dreams were filled with what I had read.  In another section, Daniel says, "I leafed through the pages, inhaling the enchanted scent of promise that comes with all new books..."  The scent of promise.  Isn't that how any true book lover feels when she picks up a new book?  Isn't that exactly why so many of us have bookshelves that are full to bursting?  We know that an entire world exists within those pages and we can't wait to discover each one. 

Each character is so richly developed that it is difficult to believe they do not actually exist.  This book is brimming with characters and in a lesser book it might be difficult to keep them all straight, but not in this one.  Ruiz Zafon does such an exceptional job describing each character and then assigning them each their own voice that even without the name present it would not be difficult to guess who was speaking. 

This book touches on war, politics, corruption, poverty, forgiveness and redemption, education and the lack thereof, good and evil, mystery, and romance.  There is nothing one could want from a book that she could not find here.  I, like Daniel, stayed awake far too late reading because I just could not stop. 

One of the characters in this book claims that "we only exist as long as somebody remembers us."  I will remember and cherish these characters.  This is a book I would love to reread and relive.  I am certain that I will.  Won't you read it?  I guarantee you will be happy you did.

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