In September I am fleeing Britain and heading to Spain to work as a teaching assistant, in the meantime I’ve been immersing myself in Spanish culture. I’ve been cooking Spanish food, watching Spanish language TV and movies, and, of course, reading some Spanish literature. Carlos Ruiz Zafón is currently considered one of the most successful modern Spanish authors, having had his novels translated into over 40 languages, The Shadow of the Wind itself has sold over 15 million copies. Zafón started his literary career as a young adult writer, then moved into adult fiction with this novel, which now has a prequel and two sequels.
Barcelona is the star of this book. The author was born in the city and there is a sense that he was writing a homage to the city itself. We see two different versions of the city; the post-war Franco-era city of death and fear, and the pre-war city of aristocracy and grandeur. Zafón’s description allows the reader to see both of these worlds in great detail.
The main protagonist, Daniel, lives in the post-war city. At the age of ten, he finds the last copy of a novel, and sets out to find out about the author, Julian Carax, and why there is only one copy left. This leads to a decade of action, of intrigue, of love and death. Over the next 500+ pages Daniel unravels a world of secrecy around the forgotten author, whilst also experiencing all the emotions of a growing young man. In his quest to find out about this mysterious author Daniel attracts the attention of numerous characters who all link together in a beautifully intricate manner. The most intriguing of these is the vindictive, brutal police chief who may be a metaphor for Franco’s dictatorship and its treatment of Barcelona.
I wouldn’t necessarily describe this as a classic, but I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It has a mix of historical, crime and romantic fiction, yet never really decides what it is. There are multiple parts to this novel, the most interesting being the section written from Nuria Montfort’s point of view, in which she reveals the answers to many of Daniel’s questions. Despite this I do feel the novel loses its way, there story is very clever and intertwines together neatly, but the writing never totally lives up to this, however this may well be down to translation. I am curious to read the other novels in the series, partly to see more of Zafón’s Barcelona, and partly to see if his writing has matured.