Monday, May 25, 2009

Carlos Ruiz Zafón - The Shadow of the Wind (Book Review)

"The Shadow of the Wind" (Amazon: UK, US)
Format: Paperback, 544/487 pages
Publisher: Phoenix / Penguin (October 2005 / January 2005)

CARLOS RUIZ ZAFÓN was quite famous in his motherland Spain for his appealing YA literature even before he set his pen to write "The Shadow of the Wind" (which will, from now on, be referred to as "TSotW"). But it was "TSotW" that brought him international fame and recognition as one of the speculative fiction's most promising new authors (where 'new' is a relative term). Even though "TSotW" was written back in 2001 it took several years for the various translations to circle the globe and reach world-wide popularity and acclaim.

If we look at this novel at face value only, it's a pretty straightforward mystery/crime story set in Spain's lascivious metropolis Barcelona in one of it's more ominous periods - reign of fascism and general Franco. Our protagonist, a 10-year-old by the name of Daniel, discovers a spellbinding book and the more fascinated that he becomes with it, the more he prods into it's authors shady past, more dangerous, interwoven and jarring the discoveries and his everyday life become. But "TSotW" wouldn't be written by a Spaniard if it didn't include tinges of Mediterranean passion and love for life. But when you finish the book and think of it, this is so much more than a 'simple' mystery/crime story (which isn't all that simple to begin with), but a book about life itself and why it's worth living for - and what's worth dying for as well. So, like all great literature, "The Shadow of the Wind" transcends any simple genre labeling.

Telling you more about the story than I just did would be pointless and counterproductive to the message I'm trying to convey in this review, but let it be enough to say that the plot itself is as enigmatic, gripping and intense as one would want from a mystery/detective story. The pace - after a slow start - and suspension of disbelief are handled with the guile of a master storyteller for the better part of the novel as well.

Characters are, for the most part, complex and multi-layered, but also most vivid and sympathetic. ZAFÓN is prone to caricature his characters (i.e. representing them in a mildly exaggerated manner for the purpose of comic relief from the otherwise often bleak and dreary content). If there was a specific character in the novel, beside the main protagonist Daniel, that I'd want to expose, it would definitely be Fermin, once secret agent and now homeless person who played for the wrong side and attracted an unwanted attention from a certain vicious police inspector. His musings and dialogues are really an accomplishment of smart writing. ZAFÓN's history as a writer of YA literature is most clearly evident with how he approaches and handles his characters and this is one of the biggest appeals of "TSotW"; characters of this novel stir up the reader in a profound way, they bring out the awe, youth and innocence in us, and it's simply priceless.

If I had any grievances with the book they would be that the start is somewhat slow and that I didn't always like how Zafon handled the relationship between Daniel and his father. Well, when I think on it, quite a few families we meet in "TSotW" are portrayed as at least mildly, if not severely, dysfunctional and estranged, but with Daniel and his father it feels like there is a void in narration; the reader expects some kind of shift, closure or...something, but it never comes. But other than that, "The Shadow of the Wind" is a terrific example of how powerful - as in meaningful, smart and moving - can a scribbled slab of dead wood be. May ZAFÓN's fate never reflect that of Julian Carax*.

----(4,5/5 Fruitcakes)
- -
- Thrinidir -

* Julián Carax - The alleged author of "The Shadow of the Wind". Daniel desperately seeks to find out the truth about this mysterious man: the reasons for his journeys, the truth about his childhood, and the explanation for why his books are all being destroyed.

p.s. Definitely the best book I've read in the last year and a half (rivalled only by the brilliant "Flowers of Algernon" by Daniel Keyes - reviewed by Trin).


The Mad Hatter said...

Shadow is one of my favorite reads of all time. I actually picked up the Subterranean edition when it was released. The Angel's Game should be out in a few weeks.

Plinydogg said...

Glad you read and enjoyed this one! It's one of my favorites too! A remarkable book (I also picked up the Subterranean edition!).

Eva said...

Sorry, I didn't like it much. I struggled through it hoping that he somehow would get back to the level of the very promising opening sequence...but, no. Being a librarian I have talked to a lot of people who have read it...and there seems to be more people that didn't like it than the ones who did. But the "likers" like it a lot.

ThRiNiDiR said...

Eva, while I can understand that not everyone can like the same book, I would still be a bit puzzled if people wouldn't at least admit a possibility that The Shadow of the Wind is something special, even if they personally didn't like it. I know I've read plenty of books that are considered extraordinary, but I didn't enjoy tham much...but in most cases though, I recognised the glimmer of brilliance behind them.

Harrison Holtz said...

Hey Thrin,

Nice to read your review and I'm glad you enjoyed the novel.

I thought you would!

ediFanoB said...

Well done!
This is also one of my favorite reads of all time. And I can't wait to read The Angel's Game.

Did you see the The Angel's Game trailer ?

ThRiNiDiR said...

Tnx for the link edifanob; the narration is a bit too "etheral" for my taste and the premise sounds very similar to Shadow of the Wind (critic in me speaking :))...but nevertheless, The Angel's Game is a book to be read as soon as it gets out. As someone on the forums said, "if it's half as good as The Shadow of the Wind, it's more than worth reading...".

M. said...

I've heard such raves about this and still don't really get what it's about. Curious enough to pick it up, though...


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