The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This novel has been on my tbr list for a long time so I was thrilled when it was chosen as our book club pick.  Zafon’s  novel has been universally praised by famous writers (Stephen King called it “one gorgeous read”) critics  (Booklist said the book was “rich, lavish storytelling”) and everyone in my book club loved it. Except me. I didn’t hate the book; I enjoyed reading it.

Let me explain.

Ten-year-old Daniel, son of an antiquarian bookseller, is still suffering from the death of his mother – whose face he can no longer remember. His father decides to take him to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a labyrinth of passages and shelves – almost impossible to navigate.

This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.

Traditionally, when someone visits the Cemetery, he or she is allowed to choose one book and then they must promise to safeguard that book for all time. Daniel chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax.

Daniel falls in love with the novel, a story about a man searching for his real father. He is so enchanted by the novel that he decides he must read everything by Carax and it is this quest that kick starts the novel.  Carax is something of a mystery himself and Daniel’s quest to learn more spans several years, introduces him a cast of broken and sinister characters and leads the reader on an adventure.

I think that’s what my problem was with this book.

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.

I think my expectations for the book and what the book was actually about didn’t actually jibe.  I had no trouble turning the pages, but ultimately The Shadow of the Wind was more of a stuffed-to-the-brim melodrama than a meditation on first books or even books in general.

As Daniel begins his quest to track down further Carax novels, a strange and somewhat threatening man offers to buy The Shadow of the Wind. Of course, this just redoubles Daniel’s efforts –  a quest that yields some surprises.

I guess, ultimately, my reservations about this book come from the hype. If I hadn’t heard so much, I might have been swept along. The writing is great (despite the fact that it’s a translation), the characters are sympathetic…but for me…the book was too long, and sometimes I felt that all the pieces just locked into place just a little too neatly. Daniel explained it best when he said:

the structure of the story began to remind me of one of those Russian dolls that contain innumerable ever-smaller dolls within.

Despite my own personal feelings, however, I would certainly encourage other readers to check this book out. It’s a lot of fun – the kind of book you can truly lose yourself in.

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