Late in the spring of 2019, I read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. As an avid reader, I am constantly on the hunt for new books to read and I had seen this novel listed on many “must-read” book lists. I had never read anything quite like it and finished the 500-page book in just a few days. This novel was so surprisingly poetic and profound that I found myself having to keep a pen tucked behind my ear, as I was constantly underlining and annotating the text.
I didn’t realize, when I first picked up the book, that I had just found what would become my favorite book of all time.
The Shadow of the Wind is a dark, gothic mystery novel set in early 1900s Barcelona. It’s a book within a book and, as I am a firm believer in no give-aways, I’m going to omit a synopsis of the story. I will say, however, that I found myself completely sucked into the story, to the point where I could visualize every scene, every street of Barcelona, and felt as though I knew the characters on a personal level.
I was very happy to discover that The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón has three other books to accompany it. The quartet makes up a series known as The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. However, you can read any or all of the books in whichever order you choose. The plots are not chronological, rather, all of the storylines criss-cross and intertwine over a 80-year or so period. They all take place in early-to-mid 1900s Barcelona and most of them take place under Francisco Franco’s rule, giving a non-Spaniard, such as I, a unique and devastating background.
As for Mr. Zafón, he is quite an interesting man. Born in Barcelona in 1964, he is considered to be one of the most influential contemporary Spanish writers. Thus far, his work has been translated, from Spanish, into more than forty languages and published in forty-five countries. His writing career began with three young adult novels, which he wrote while working as a screenwriter in Los Angeles.
In 2001, he wrote The Shadow of the Wind. Having listened to his wonderful interview on the BBC World Bookclub Podcast, I learned that he genuinely did not anticipate such a powerful and loving reaction to the novel. But that’s just what happened. The people loved it and, over fifteen years, we were treated to those three other books that I mentioned: The Angel’s Game; The Prisoner of Heaven; and the one I’m currently reading, The Labyrinth of Spirits.
Mr. Zafón’s writing won my heart with his lovable and complex characters, captivating storylines, his vivid description of 1900s Barcelona, blatant humor, and even the fact that all of his main characters are genuinely passionate bibliophiles. I’ve grown to love Fermín Romero de Torres, every generation of the Daniel Semperes, Isabella, and even Don Gustavo Barceló.
But the most truly enchanting feature of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books is the cemetery itself. A massive labyrinth under the streets of Barcelona, filled to the brim with old, rare, cherished, forgotten, threatened, and forbidden books. The exclusive and select group of visitors who are permitted entry are allowed to take one title with them, but they must keep it in their possession forever and protect it at all costs, so they choose wisely.
This underground maze includes tunnels, bridges, hidden rooms, and is sheltered by a large, glass-domed ceiling. Quite frankly, I desperately want to see this for myself. Alas, as I am often disappointed by the limitations of this reality, The Cemetery of Forgotten books is not a real place. I must satisfy myself with places like City Lights Booksellers in San Francisco or Shakespeare and Company in Paris.
But that’s what makes Zafón’s writing so magical. You find yourself yearning to live in this world he has created, to emulate his characters speech and mannerisms. His lyrical works make you want to write a novel for yourself and his story lines seep into your everyday life. Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a gift to humanity and I cannot wait to see what treasure he will bring into this world next.
As always, I’ll leave you with a quote. In this case, which is from The Shadow of the Wind, it perfectly captures how I feel about this wonderful man.
"Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later--no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover or how much we learn or forget--we will return." - Carlos Ruiz Zafón.