Barcelona, 1945—Just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes one day to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again.
Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a book from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the book he selects, a novel called The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last of Carax’s books in existence.
Before Daniel knows it, his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness, and doomed love, and before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.
Book Review: ★★★★★★
This is a book that I really did stumble upon. I had gone to the local book store in search of something else. And since you have to look around at what else is available when you are in a bookstore — I just happened to be wandering. As I came around the corner of a bookshelf, I knocked a book off, and it hit my foot, and slid across the floor. When I picked it up — I just decided it had to go home with me. It must have been the book gnomes making another recommendation, since this book rapidly made it onto my favorite books list. The story is of a young boy that has lost his mother, and his father is seeking a means of helping him over the tremendous loss. He takes him to a secret library — where he adopts one of the many lost books that are kept in this mysterious place. The resurfacing of this book starts a mystery that proves to be both unusual, and entertaining all at the same time. And yet it straddles the fence between being a true mystery novel, or a literary mystery novel. It has the best aspects of both combined to make for a powerful story.
However, as compelling as the story was, it was the description that I fell in love with. Set in the city of Barcelona, in 1945, the descriptions of this city come alive in this book. I was amazed at how beautiful the city sounded, and the feeling of mystery and a romantic setting is so overwhelming, it radiates from the pages. Mr Zafon is exceptional at describing places to such a degree that his readers come away feeling as if they have just visited this thrilling city. A lot of times I like to read books that deal with other places and cultures, because I find I gain a greater appreciation for other countries, cultures, and beliefs. This is one of the primary reasons that I read — and this book has a lot to offer on the city of Barcelona. And since I never knew much about this city — I really came away awed at the whole presentation. I really felt a connection to this place, due to the descriptive powers of Mr. Zafon.
I was also very impressed at the multiple layers of the story, and how well they came together. I find that authors are usually very good at taking a linear story, and creating a thrilling adventure from beginning to end. But it is the rare few that are able to create multiple stories in one book, without confusing the readers, or muddling the stories threads so completely that it is difficult to figure out what is going one. But Mr. Zafon has a great gift for developing multiple story lines, and actually maintains a powerful sense of mystery, without the confusion. I also loved the fact that this wasn’t your stereotypical mystery story. Mr. Zafon did not feel the need to follow the mold of traditional detective stories, and he resisted the temptation to resort to trite, cliche phrases that I find such a turn off. This is simply an engrossing story that draws the reader in, and holds their attention.
I had a friend that I lent this book to, and they had a hard time getting into it — mainly because they found the relationship between the father and son to be a little creepy in the beginning. And I must admit the opening couple of chapters seemed a little odd to me at first. But as the story develops the beauty of this relationship between father and son becomes a great stabilizing factor of the story. And best of all — many of the main characters have a reappearance in the follow up book The Angel’s Game.
I am always a fan of books that teach children to turn to books for solace, comfort, and a source of knowledge. And I love to find a writer that still encourages this activity through the books he writes. That is the other reason that I fell in love with this book. Reading is becoming a much less popular form of entertainment in a world that is overwhelmed with information overload. And many people have forgotten how fun it can be to stretch your imagination and enter another world inside of the covers of a book.
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I’m a thorough fan of Mr. Zafon and a fellow writer. As a writer, I’m scratching at the walls trying to figure what font it is that was used in the printing of at least the hardcover first American edition of this book. Any help would be immensely appreciated.
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Adversity is like a strong wind. I don’t mean just that it holds us back from places we might otherwise go. It also tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be. — Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha