Friday, October 31, 2008

REVIEW: The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Published 2005 by Penguin.

I didn't know this when I started reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon's utterly absorbing book, but The Shadow of the Wind is the perfect book for Halloween. It's about a young boy named Daniel in post-civil war Spain who finds a mysterious book, The Shadow of the Wind, in a labyrinthine library, by which he is entranced- so much so that he dedicates himself to learning as much as he can about the book and its enigmatic author, one Julian Carax.

His search brings him to a haunted mansion filled with secrets, a creepy hospital whose patients aren't quite what they seem, and through a Barcelona barely recovered from a bloody, traumatic civil war. There are stories within the story, about another young boy lifted out of an unhappy family by a strange benefactor, a doomed, forbidden love affair and a frustrated, unhappy woman who dies tragically. Daniel himself is haunted by a dark, disfigured stranger on a mission to burn every last copy of Carax's works, and a vengeful, psychotic police detective who has already left a long trail of misery.

Into this marvelous, fireside-worthy ghost story Zafon has added an impressive cast of characters, major and minor. Particularly memorable are the deeply traumatized and yet still charming Fermin Romero de Torres, who provides both pathos and comic relief, and the snake-like Francisco Javier Fumero, the bloodthirsty policeman with a history of viciousness and violence. Zafon has also created three erotic, emotionally-charged love stories that add a great deal to the story. Perhaps the most memorable character of all is Spain itself; Zafon sprinkles the book with details that remind the reader how the trauma of the civil war still reverberates for his characters- a wall pockmarked by bullets, the ever-present threat of the secret police and the wounds and scars on the bodies of the survivors, including Daniel's confidant Fermin.

Without giving anything away, let's just say it all ends a lot better than I expected. Literary in style and generally serious in tone, The Shadow of the Wind isn't necessarily a quick read or an light read, but it was a very satisfying and very rewarding read. Though one major theme of the book is the idea of being haunted by the past, it ends up very much about hope for the future. Zafon takes us through some pretty steep twists and turns to get there, and I'd definitely recommend it for readers who like an intelligent, suspenseful thrill ride leading to a satisfying and optimistic conclusion.