Book Description (Amazon): Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.
My Review (Spoilers!): Executive Summary: entrancing
This is one of our book club books, and since we do books by categories, I started the book thinking that it was our “historical fiction” book. But a few pages in, I thought, no that can’t be right. It must be our “literary fiction” book. No, it wasn’t that either. It was our mystery. And that made it make a lot more sense as to why I had no idea what was going on in the book until about 75% through. Now, I’m not saying that as a bad thing. I actually think that the book fits better under a literary fiction as it’s not really a “who done it?” sort of mystery. It’s more just a curious story that drags the reader along for a ride. It’s a bit of a story within a story and the story is about books. I loved it.
Daniel, who is nearly eleven, and his father (his mother died from cholera shortly after the Spanish civil war) head to a secret place early one morning. They are greeted by an old man, Isaac, upon their arrival. Upon entry, Daniel is introduced to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a labyrinth of a library. Daniel is to pick out one book and adopt it, guaranteeing that its story will always be remembered. After searching for some time, he chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. He read it all in one go and became completely enamored with it.
Daniel’s father owns a bookstore, so he asks his father about additional books by Carax, and surprisingly comes up with nothing. His father is completely unfamiliar with the author. They decide to consult with a colleague of Daniel’s father, Gustavo Barcelo. Barcelo offers to buy it from Daniel, but Daniel will not sell it. Per Barcelo’s suggestion, Daniel goes to Barcelo’s house the next day so the book can be examined and Barcelo can provide Daniel with all the information that he knows about Carax.
The following day, he shows up and is introduced to Barcelo’s niece Clara, who is blind (and with whom Daniel falls completely infatuated with). She once read a book of Carax’s called The Red House when she was younger and went on a similar fact-finding mission as Daniel to find out about Carax. So Barcelo considers her to be the Carax expert. Barcelo also tells Daniel that his copy of The Shadow of the Wind is thought to be the only one in existence. Clara had learned that Carax sold very few copies of his books, but he had had a publisher who had really liked them so he pursued on despite the low sales. Carax had apparently played the piano in a brothel to make up for the poor book sales, and he had supposedly died in a duel. None of these facts were for certain. Daniel proceeds to invite himself over to read The Shadow of the Wind to Clara, who agrees.
He continues to go by to see her regularly (over many years), falling quite in love with her. Everyone tries to talk him out of it, but he can see no reason. Even when at his birthday party, the only person who shows is Barcelo’s maid, Bernarda. Afterwards, he is confronted by a man calling himself Lain Coubert, the character of the devil in The Shadow of the Wind appears and asks Daniel for his copy of the book so that he can burn it. To prevent Clara from being hurt by the man (the book is at her house), Daniel decides to sneak into the Barcelo’s to retrieve the copy. While there, he sees Clara naked with her piano teacher. The teacher kicks Daniel out onto the street (luckily with his book) thus ending the relationship with Clara and beginning a relationship with a homeless man named Fermin Romero de Torres. Daniel then takes his book back to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books to hide it.
While there, he meets Isaac again and asks him for any information that he may have about Carax. Isaac knew Carax’s publisher back in the day. He confirms that Carax indeed played piano in a brothel, and his best-selling book sold 90 copies at most. But even so, the publisher published eight of Carax’s novels between 1928 and 1936. Eventually the publisher became ill, and his son took over. Shortly after that, a Lain Coubert appeared at the publishing house offering to buy all the Carax stock that was left. The son tried to get a better deal on the books, and Coubert refused. The following evening the warehouse burned to the ground. Luckily, the publisher’s secretary had some foresight and took one copy of each to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The secretary was Isaac’s daughter, Nuria. Daniel also learns that Carax was Julian’s mother’s last name. His father’s last name was Fortuny, and he owned a hat shop in town. His parents had been separated before he moved to Paris.
Later that year, Daniel’s father’s bookstore needed some additional help, so Daniel recommends his pal Fermin. Fermin had a colorful history during the war and loves to tell the stories, particularly of the ones evading Inspector Fumero. Daniel and his father get Fermin cleaned up and he begins to work at the bookstore.
Eventually Daniel tells Fermin of his long-standing mystery of Julian Carax. Fermin, ever the detective, begins to help Daniel track down additional information. They eventually learn the story of Julian, all the while comparisons are drawn to Daniel’s own life.
Julian was working at the hat shop one day when the rich and powerful Don Ricardo Aldaya comes in to be fitted for hats. Julian charms him by standing up to him, and Aldaya offers Fortuny to pay Julian’s way into the fancy prep school in town where his son Jorge goes. While there, Julian becomes friends with Jorge as well as Fernando Ramos (who is now a priest), Miguel Moliner (his best friend), and a troubled boy named Francisco Romero (who has grown into the Inspector Romero who everyone fears. Investigating these people, Daniel and Fermin learn that Julian fell in love with Jorge’s sister, Penelope. (So did Francisco.) They planned to leave Barcelona and elope in Paris with the help of Miguel. Unfortunately the night before they are to leave, Julian and Penelope are caught in the throes of passion by Penelope’s mother. Penelope never makes it to Paris.
Julian is not sure what has happened, so he eventually returns to Barcelona to track her down. He finds that after Penelope’s mother caught them, Don Ricardo was told about the incident. He is furious specifically because Julian and Penelope are half-siblings. Penelope is pregnant, and she is locked in her room, dying during childbirth. Julian finds their crypts in the old family home, and he is devastated that he wasted his life writing books, so he adopts the alter ego Lain Coubert and begins to destroy all of his novels so that no one else can be poisoned by them.
Isaac’s daughter, Nuria, met Julian once when she went to Paris for work. They had a sexual relationship, and despite her falling in love with him, it was apparent that he could love no other than his Penelope. Eventually Nuria married Julian’s best friend, Miguel, and the three had an interesting relationship. Miguel sacrificed himself for Julian at the hands of some of Inspector Fumero’s men. (Fumero had been hunting Julian down for years due to the situation with Penelope and because he was crazy). Julian had been burned badly during the warehouse fire, and he was nursed back to health by his father and by Nuria. The person who had died in the supposed duel at the wedding was none other than Jorge Aldaya, who had gotten sucked into Fumero’s scheme.
Eventually Julian met Daniel and his attitude changed. He saw some of himself in Daniel as Daniel had fallen in love with his best friend’s sister, Bea, despite her engagement to someone else. Julian encouraged Daniel to live life in the moment, and the book ends with Daniel and Bea getting married. Their wedding was performed by Father Fernando Ramos, and their son was named Julian.
Verdict: 4 Stars
Like I said, I really enjoyed this book. The writing was good, and the story was so multi-layered and entrancing. It’s not as much of a mystery as just a very intriguing story, and it is well worth the read. It is a long book that I summed up fairly briefly, however, throughout the book, the information comes piece by piece by meeting a variety of characters throughout the way, many of whom end up being a major player in not only Julian’s story but also in Daniel’s.