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.