Let's see, first should I identify the genre? Not sure I can do that. If I had to pick one genre I'd say it was a gothic romance, but it was also a mystery, set in a historical time frame. It has ghosts, or at least rumors of ghosts. And in a strange way, it is a coming-of-age story.
We meet our protagonist, Daniel, when, as an eleven-year-old, his father took him to the cemetery of forgotten books. There he was instructed to select one book and to make it his. Daniel selects the book, The Shadow of the Wind by a relatively unknown author, Julian Carax. After reading his book, Daniel sets out to learn as much as he can about the author. What he learns frames the rest of his life. It changes the whole trajectory of the course his life takes. It places him in harms way, but also leads him to love's door.
The plot of The Shadow of the Wind is labyrinthine, containing spirals within spirals. For this reason, this should not be a book selection made by a casual reader. If a person is looking for an easy-to-read book that is straight-forward, this is not the book. But even as I say these words I am picturing the first student I will recommend this book to. Many high school readers are mature enough to enjoy complex novels, especially ones with spooky plots and complicated characters. In fact, it was a high school student that suggested that I purchase it for the library several years ago.
I was enthralled with this book right from the first line, "I still remember the day my father took me to the cemetery of forgotten books for the first time." I couldn't figure out the mysterious bits. I cheered for young love and wept for love lost. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that few reviewers writing for newspapers around the world liked it. Or, more accurately, these reviewers liked aspects but were very critical and had issues with parts of the book. Once again, I want to reiterate that this book is not for everyone. But I also think that book reviewers have to be a bit controversial to appeal to their readers. If you want to see what I mean, take a look at the review by Andrew Riemer from the Sydney Morning Herald. Then come back for a less complicated but more complimentary review, right here!
I listened to the audiobook of The Shadow of the Wind. Jonathan Davis narrated it beautifully. Perhaps I loved this book because of Davis and his marvelous reading skills. I don't speak Spanish so I appreciated his pronunciations and the way he handled names and locations that I would have botched on my own. For example, I didn't know that Barcelona is actually pronounced Barthelona, sounding almost like the speaker has a lisp. Interesting. One aspect of the audiobook that I adored was the music in the background. I understand that it was written by the author. Impressive. If you pay attention at the very beginning of this audio clip on YouTube you will hear a little bit of the music. Unlike most audiobooks, listeners are treated to the music at various intervals throughout each disc, not just at the beginning and end of each.
(Dang it. The video is no longer available. Too bad. The music was lovely.)
I want to mention the fact that this book is translated into English from Spanish by Lucia Graves.
I didn't notice that it was a translation until the translator was mentioned in the credits. What? That was a shock. Usually I am aware of language nuance issues with translations. Not with this book. Lucia Graves did an excellent job. She obviously understands the subtleties of both languages equally.
Lastly I want to highlight a few quotes from the book. In a lot of ways this book is just a love story to literature. No wonder I loved it.
“Once, in my father's bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.”
“In the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here has been somebody’s best friend.”
“Time goes faster the more hollow it is. Lives with no meaning go straight past you, like trains that don’t stop at your station.”
“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside of you."~Julian Carax”
“Destiny is usually just around the corner. Like a thief, a hooker, or a lottery vendor: its three most common personifications. But what destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it.”Exquisite, simply lovely.