The Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Translated by Lucia Graves
Published in 2001
Published by Penguin
Daniel is a bookseller's son living in late 1940s Barcelona. He comes into possession of a novel called The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax. Daniel develops a years-long obsession with Carax, a long-disappeared fellow Barcelona native, and he tries to piece together what he can of Carax's life story. Is the presumably now middle-aged Carax still alive? Reports differ. Has Carax written anything else? Yes, several novels, and every known copy has gone missing. What does the malevolent and thuggish local police inspector who antagonizes Daniel and threatens his friends have to do with Carax? And who is the mysterious scarred man who stalks Daniel and intends to make sure every last Carax novel is burned to ashes?
Several of this novel's many effusive blurbs compare it to an Umberto Eco work. I can see the resemblance. This is a big, complex book whose plot doubles back recursively; there's a lot going on here, and plenty of characters to keep straight. This onion has a lot of layers.
Fortunately, this one is both a highbrow literary work and a real page-turner. The author knows how to milk every drop of suspense out of having his characters creep around dusty, abandoned mansions at night.
I have only a very basic level of knowledge about the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath in Barcelona, which forms the all-pervasive backdrop to the novel. I know it to be a deep, complex, emotionally loaded subject which I happen to be largely ignorant of (despite having read Orwell's Homage to Catalonia several years ago). The Shadow of the Wind doesn't require its readers to be particularly knowledgeable about 20th-century Spain, but having at least a passing familiarity with the times would be helpful. If anything, this is one of those novels that inspire you to learn more about the historical period in question.