The Shadow of the Wind is the lush, atmospheric, Spanish child of Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, Mysteries of Udolpho, and the Continental literary tradition of gothic tragedies.
Lucia Graves, the translator, somehow imbues the language with the original romantic cadences of the Spanish language, and even smoothly translates such weighty philosophical aphorisms such as “Our world will not die as a result of the bomb, as the papers say – it will die of laughter, of banality, of making a joke of everything, and a lousy joke at that.” and “Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.”
The “main” character, Daniel, is a son of a bookseller who receives a mysterious novel and digs out the sad history of its writer. In doing so, he finds a parallel to his own lovelife, loving someone already betrothed to another, and evidence of evil in the form of a police captain raised up under Franco’s Spanish regime.
The mystery comes out little by little, and then in info dumps in the form of letters written by characters, but what makes this 5 start despite acknowledging how the characters aren’t fully formed, but driven by plot and angst devices, and that it drags on a long time after I thought it should end, and its an entirely male-dominated narrative with the female characters mostly portrayed as possessions to be protected or unattainable creatures of desire, is that the atmospheric and otherworldly feelings evoked by reading about this literary and wounded Barcelona are very strong. Zafon’s Barcelona became an entity in the book just as demanding of my attention as Daniel or Julian Carax the doomed author himself.
And then there is the joy of the comedic, poignant, and ultimately least blameable character, the man Daniel rescues from the street and comes to work for his shop and basically acts as the deus ex machina for Daniel, Fermin, who definitely steals the show in every scene.
If you like gothic, you will love Zafon, but as a product of the twenty-first century, reading Shadow of the Wind felt like dragging an outdated classic from a dusty shelf and I had to suspend some of my modern sensibilities to enjoy it.