The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The novel is set in 1950s Barcelona while Spain is under Franco’s dictatorship. Daniel Sempere, the son of a bookseller, discovers a rare novel by Julian Carax, an obscure author, when his father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Daniel slowly learns the story of the author, uncovering bits and pieces from some of those who knew him.
One sinister figure is Lain Coubert, the devil in Carax’s novel, who has been trying for years to destroy all traces of his books. Another arch-villain is Francisco Javier Fumero, a sadist who is a chief inspector of the Barcelona Crime Squad and childhood friend of Carax. Daniel’s sidekick, friend, and mentor is Fermín Romero de Torres who was tortured by Fumero.
The book is 500 pages of incest, murder, childhood friendships and humiliations, mistaken identity, disappointed and discouraged love, crumbling mansions, robbed crypts, and hatred and anger spanning decades. Daniel’s situation bears uncanny resemblances to that of the protagonist in Carax’s novel and Carax’s life.
A major weakness is that there is little direct action and a lot of exposition. Stories from various characters, told in page after page of exposition, relate second- and third-hand family histories with relevant information coming only after much stage setting and ancestry delineating.
There is a definite tinge of melodrama such as is found in Victorian novels: wealthy families ruined by evil appetites, forbidden love between beautiful young people, and vengeful patriarchs protecting the chastity of their daughters.
This novel spent 60 weeks on Spain’s best seller lists and he has sold millions of copies worldwide, but I wouldn’t put it on my list of favourites.
If you are interested, there’s a prequel to the book entitled The Angel's Game and a sequel titled The Prisoner of Heaven.