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Book: The Shadow of the Wind

October 4, 2009
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This is my book club book this month, so I won’t say too much in case any of my fellow book-clubbers are reading this, but I will say this: Dang. That’s one good book.

Set in Barcelona, mid 1940s, Daniel is just 10 years old when his father takes him to a mysterious place called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He tells him to choose one book out of the thousands housed there, and that from then on, he should protect that book with his life. Daniel is drawn to one book in particular, The Shadow of the Wind, by a little-known author named Julian Carax. Little does he know that from then on, his life will become dangerously intertwined with the fate of the author.

Mysterious shadowy figures, burned books, nightmarish Inspectors, crazy beggars (who perhaps aren’t crazy after all), doomed love, haunted houses… this big, fat book is about as engaging as they come. I wasn’t in the mood to read it (I thought) when I picked it up a few days ago… but I thought, well, I’ll just read the first two pages. Of course, by then I was completely hooked. Beautifully written and full of melancholy imagery, I didn’t want to put this down until I finished it, devoured it, earlier today.

More than anything, this is a story of love. It seems that every other character longs for someone unattainable, or wishes they could return the love of someone who adores them. The love stories are intertwined throughout the book, dancing in and out of each other’s pages. Many of them are doomed; a few have happy endings.

Like Carax’s novels, this book was full of fantastic elements which never seemed overdone — just the merest hints of exaggeration kept the story feeling a bit dreamlike (or nightmarish). We wander through the streets of Barcelona with Daniel, unraveling the mystery of the book and its seemingly doomed author.

I loved it. It was actually a perfect follow-up to The Thirteenth Tale, as both of them are true love letters to books, and both of them slowly revealed the history behind the book in beautiful layers unfolding, the map of characters spreading out until finally, they come together in a breathless conclusion. My mind wanted to match everyone up as all the characters’ stories echoed someone else’s story. Very satisfying.

I think this qualifies as an RIP book since the mood was so melancholy and there are specters everywhere, dark mysteries abounding. It was a longish book, but the sort of book where you can lay in bed for hours and forget to eat, needing to turn just one more page, just one more chapter. (I should know)

And now… do I read another RIP book? Or do I read a Ruth Reichl, as a palate cleanser? Hmm.

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