‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
One of the great things about traveling is the uninterrupted, yet still productive, time it gives you to read. On long cross-country or cross-ocean or just cross-state flights, you get the rare pleasure of reading without interruption and accomplishing something productive (apart from the reading itself, of course).
I recently had two full days of travel to devote to reading. As we’ve discussed before, choosing the perfect airplane read is a delicate balancing act and I’m happy to report that this particular trip’s reading material was perfect.
For the first leg of my trip, I chose Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind. I’m not sure where it started, but for the past few summers it has become something of a tradition for me to read Spanish literary fiction. For some reason, nothing has seemed quite so well-suited to sweaty summer weekends than Zafon or his contemporary Arturo Perez-Reverte. I think it has something to do with how well each authors evoke Spain past and present combined with my own (probably invented, as I’ve never been) sense of Spain as a preternaturally hot place. For whatever reason, as soon as the temperature regularly climbs above 60 and the sun finally becomes a daily companion, I run to the library so I can visit book-Spain.
And this year, although my first away from New York’s particular brand of sweat-soaked summer in a long time, proved no exception. Summer beckoned and my internal reader demanded Spain. The fact that the start of summer coincided with this trip was the cherry on top.
The Shadow of the Wind is a delightfully bookish book and starts with Daniel Sempere, the son of a Barcelona bookseller, being introduced to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books is perhaps my favorite of Zafon’s many delightful inventions and one which features in a few of his novels. It makes its first appearance in The Shadow of the Wind and kick-starts Daniel’s growing up story. This story involves love, loss, and discovery, in each case in every possible sense—of books, of people, of stories, of political reality, and of maturity.
On its surface, The Shadow of the Wind is about tracing the history of mysterious author Julian Carax, whose final book Daniel finds in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, but Shadow also follows Daniel as he leaves his childhood behind and becomes an adult. Our hero finds the book that changes everything when he’s just nine years old and ends the story, having uncovered far more than he intended, as a married man. The choices Daniel makes, shadowed by those made decades earlier by Carax, determine the course of not just his adult life, but that of all those around him.
Zafon’s skillful weaving of different themes and historic moments, along with his evident love of books and the act of reading, are why I keep coming back from more every summer. Shadow is a terrific read and one which is thoughtful and intelligent without weighing you down like other bookish fiction sometimes does (see: Umberto Eco). And while it does have some very suspenseful moments, it is much less supernatural and/or creepy than some of his other books. This is great since it means you can read it alone right before bed if necessary!
And, in case anyone was wondering, The Shadow of the Wind is also the exact length of a short layover in New York followed by a flight from New York to Salt Lake City. Just in case you have that trip on your horizon anytime soon. Even if you don’t, Zafon is worth every step through the summer heat to your local library.