The Shadow of the Wind opens in 1945 in Barcelona, bleak and still shattered by the Spanish Civil War. Throughout, in fact, the residue of the war's fraternal horror is the grave thematic substratum beneath capers and mystifications … Ruiz Zafón gives us a panoply of alluring and savage personages and stories. His novel eddies in currents of passion, revenge and mysteries whose layers peel away onionlike yet persist in growing back … The melodrama and complications of Shadow, expertly translated by Lucia Graves, can approach excess, though it's a pleasurable and exceedingly well-managed excess. We are taken on a wild ride — for a ride, we may occasionally feel — that executes its hairpin bends with breathtaking lurches.
The 1940s Barcelona of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's new novel is by no means the trendy tourist destination of today; rather, it's a city shut down for the duration in death and fear. Its buildings pockmarked by gunfire or abandoned by bankrupt dynasties, it is a place in material and metaphorical ruins. Survivors of civil war, its people hang on grimly, with no apparent expectation of better times … This is the standard stuff of doctrinaire postmodernism. That this elaborate nest of narratives stacks together so neatly is impressive; that the cogs which drive the action whir quite so swiftly and smoothly is little short of miraculous. Zafón's real virtues are more old-fashioned ones, though: what makes this novel so irresistibly readable is the emotional energy generated by the ups and downs of a big and varied cast of memorable characters.
It is a long novel that will remind readers of a good many other novels. This isn't meant as criticism but as an indication of the story's richness and architectonic intricacy. Before everything else, Carlos Ruiz Zafon's European bestseller is a book about a mysterious book, and its even more mysterious author … As the reader tries to figure out the links between modern Spanish history, two passionate and forbidden love affairs and an enigmatic novelist, Carlos Ruiz Zafon periodically lessens the tension of his dark melodrama by introducing humorous interludes or eccentric secondary characters … Suffice it to say that — and here's yet another critical formula — anyone who enjoys novels that are scary, erotic, touching, tragic and thrilling should rush right out to the nearest bookstore and pick up The Shadow of the Wind.
Clearly, Zafon is using the city as a vast amorphous symbol for the legacy of guilt, misery, unresolved conflict and social disruption left by the Civil War. Fumero, who switches sides handily more than once during the fighting — and ends up as a postwar fascist executioner in a grim hillside castle — is proof enough of that. The trouble is, Zafon is not a whole-hogging magical realist like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. What he sets out to write — and manages to do so quite brilliantly — is a complex generational family mystery. But the thing about mysteries is that, to convince, they have to be bedded in acceptable fact. The compulsive fascination of Zafon's plot keeps bumping up against the implausibility of its context and background … Beautifully translated by Lucia Graves, it's a compulsive page turner: Never mind the improbabilities; the reader gets hooked by Daniel's strange odyssey and the innumerable offbeat characters he encounters along the way.
Zafón convincingly conjures two worlds here. The main setting is Daniel's Barcelona, grumbling its way through the postwar dictatorship. But gradually Daniel uncovers Julián's prewar world, where aristocracy and family honour are paramount ... This celebration of small triumphs in an unjust world is at the book's core ... To [Lucia Graves's] credit, the language and mood remain intricate and beguiling — there is no awkwardness in translation... In fact, everything about The Shadow of the Wind is smooth. The language purrs along, while the plot twists and unravels with languid grace... The medley of genres (mildly supernatural thriller, against-the-odds love story and period coming-of-age saga) never quite fuses into a satisfying whole ...atmospheric, beguiling and thoroughly readable, but ultimately lacks the magic its early chapters promise.
At the end of nearly 500 pages of incest, murder, mistaken identity, crumbling mansions, robbed crypts, chaste maidens, wise mendicants and perverted politicians, the reader realizes that Zafon intends his story to be taken totally, utterly seriously. The reader must be forgiven for looking for literary high jinks in this otherwise tiring, meandering tale … After the first few encounters, Daniel's adventures take on a routine flavorlessness: He meets a tragically beautiful woman, or a constipated priest, or a demented governess, who provides him with another chapter in the saga of Carax. Inevitably, these stories, told in page after page of exposition, concern wealthy families ruined by evil appetites, forbidden love between beautiful youths, and vengeful patriarchs who lock their daughters up in drafty rooms of decaying mansions. For such a hefty book, The Shadow of the Wind contains very little direct action, and surprisingly few scenes.
The histories of a mysterious book and its enigmatic author are painstakingly disentangled in this yeasty Dickensian romance: a first novel by a Spanish novelist now living in the US … The Shadow of the Wind will keep you up nights—and it’ll be time well spent. Absolutely marvelous.
The time is the 1950s; the place, Barcelona. Daniel Sempere, the son of a widowed bookstore owner, is 10 when he discovers a novel, The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax. The novel is rare, the author obscure, and rumors tell of a horribly disfigured man who has been burning every copy he can find of Carax's novels … Ruiz Zafón strives for a literary tone, and no scene goes by without its complement of florid, cute and inexact similes and metaphors. Yet the colorful cast of characters, the gothic turns and the straining for effect only give the book the feel of para-literature or the Hollywood version of a great 19th-century novel.