Barcelona, 1945: 10-year-old Daniel Sempere is bothered to discover he can no longer remember his late mother’s face. His father, a bookseller specializing in first edition and antique novels, decides Daniel is ready to go to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Daniel’s father forbids him from telling anyone, even his best friend Tomás, that a secret library exists where books forgotten by the general public rest, waiting to be rediscovered while being cared for by a select few. Each person initiated into this secret society picks one book from its shelves, and it is that person’s job to care for the book while giving it new life by reading it. Daniel chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax, feeling drawn to the book as if by destiny’s hand. The book, a tale of love, betrayal, and lies, quickly becomes Daniel’s favorite book.
Daniel’s interest in the book is piqued when his father’s colleague, Don Gustavo Barceló, expresses a near-fanatical desire to buy the book from Daniel. Daniel refuses, taking his ownership of the book very seriously, and finds out from Don Gustavo that Carax’s novels are exceedingly rare and could be worth a fortune. Carax’s novels never sold well, and then a mysterious figure began burning copies of the author’s books. Daniel’s intrigue in the mysterious author is further inflamed when he meets Don Gustavo’s blind niece, Clara. Clara, also a Carax enthusiast, forms a close bond with Daniel as he reads aloud to her over the years. Daniel’s love for Clara grows over time, ignorant to the fact Clara only feels friendship for the boy, who is 10 years her junior.
From the ages of 10 to 14, Daniel spends every spare moment at the Barceló’s home, feeling Clara and the maid, Bernarda, are his second family. Now an apprentice at his father’s bookshop, Daniel has to spend more time making deliveries and collecting payments from other booksellers and book enthusiasts. Daniel is shocked one night when a disfigured man who calls himself Laín Coubert, the name of the devil character in The Shadow of the Wind, approaches him. Coubert asks about Daniel’s copy of The Shadow of the Wind, offering to buy it from him and alluding Clara will be in danger if Daniel doesn’t comply. The man says he’s an expert on Carax and has been giving Carax’s novels the fate they deserve by burning them. Daniel, who gave the book to Clara for safekeeping, tells Coubert that Clara’s piano teacher has it. Daniel promises to retrieve the book and takes off. He sneaks into the Barceló’s apartment and gets the book, but in the process gets his heart broken when he sees Clara and her piano teacher in the middle of a tryst. The teacher violently throws Daniel out of the apartment, warning him to stay away from Clara. Dejected and finally accepting the truth about Clara’s platonic feelings for him, Daniel abandons the Barceló apartment and runs to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books to hide his prized book.
After losing his friendship with Clara and abandoning his book, Daniel spends the next four years devoting all of his attention to his work. His new best friend Fermín, a former intelligence agent who was condemned to a life of poverty after the Spanish Civil War, works at the bookshop because Daniel saw potential in the wily little man. Through his work, Daniel discovers more details about the mysterious past of Carax. Some stories say he died in 1919, others say he fled into exile in Paris after a doomed love affair, and others say he lost his life in a duel. With Fermín’s espionage expertise, Daniel is able to track down former friends and acquaintances of Carax who tell him about the author’s tense upbringing, childhood foibles, and adolescent love affair with his best friend’s sister Penélope. All of these details, and the details Daniel feels his informers are leaving out, only intensify his desire to solve the mystery of what happened to Carax and why Coubert is hell-bent on destroying the man’s books. Daniel’s love affair with his best friend’s sister Bea complicates his journey, which becomes more and more dangerous with the turn of each page.
This book falls under the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge category “A Book Recommended by Someone You Just Met.” At the beginning of the year, I put out a plea on Tumblr for someone to recommend a book for me to read, and this was the recommendation. I’m always wary of reading books I’ve never heard about because I’m never sure if I’ll like them. I’m used to going on Goodreads and looking at suggestions based on what I’ve read, or choosing books based on descriptions I find appealing. So, reading a book based completely on the recommendation of someone I don’t know was especially daunting. The description on the inside jacket was promising, but I was a little scared at the length of the novel and the small font. “I REALLY hope this book doesn’t suck,” I thought as I sat down to read it for the first time.
This book was AMAZING. It has layers, foreshadowing, beautiful language, enigmatic characters, and a gorgeous setting. The descriptions of misty evenings along the Ramblas drew me in, feeling as anxious as Daniel was to get the full, tragic story of Julián Carax. Just as you think you’re getting answers to the mystery, something else comes along that needs to be answered. The suspense doesn’t let up until the final page. When I reached the end, I found myself crying, not because the story was a sad one, but because I didn’t want the story to end. It’s a book written with book lovers in mind: an ode to novels, novelists, and the people who treasure them. The Shadow of the Wind is truly a beautiful book.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Montblanc Meinsterstück fountain pens rumored to have belonged to Victor Hugo
2016 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Categories: A Book Recommended By Someone You Just Met