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.
We meet its engaging narrator Daniel Sempere in 1945, when he’s an 11-year-old boy brought by his father, a Barcelona rare-book dealer, to a secret library known as the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Enthralled, Daniel “chooses” an obscure novel, The Shadow of the Wind, a complex quest tale whose author, Julian Carax, reputedly fled Spain at the outbreak of its Civil War, and later died in Paris. Carax and his book obsess Daniel for a decade, as he grows to manhood, falls in and out of fascination, if not love with three beguiling women, and comes ever closer to understanding who Carax was and how he was connected to the family of tyrannical Don Ricardo Aldaya—and why a sinister, “faceless” stranger who identifies himself as Carax’s fictional creation (“demonic”) “Lain Coubert” has seemingly “got out of the pages of a book so that he could burn it.” Daniel’s investigations are aided, and sometimes impeded, by a lively gallery of vividly evoked supporting characters. Prominent among them are secretive translator Nuria Monfort (who knows more about Carax’s Paris years than she initially reveals); Aldaya family maid Jacinta Coronada, consigned to a lunatic asylum to conceal what she knows; Daniel’s ebullient Sancho Panza Fermin Romero de Torres, a wily vagrant working as “bibliographic detective” in the Semperes’ bookstore; and vengeful police inspector Fumero, a Javert-like stalker whose refusal to believe Carax is dead precipitates the climax—at which Daniel realizes he’s much more than just a reader of Carax’s intricate, sorrowful story.
The Shadow of the Wind will keep you up nights—and it’ll be time well spent. Absolutely marvelous.