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Carlos Ruiz Zafón – The Shadow of the Wind

December 22, 2008

157. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2001)

Length: 500 pages

Genre: Hard to define; mostly mystery, with a strong element of historical fiction, and a smattering of magical realism tossed in, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it fantasy.

Started: 15 December 2008
Finished: 21 December 2008

How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 20 September 2008, although it went on my wishlist about a year ago after having it recommended to me during SantaThing 2007.
Verdict? Unclear. Keeper for now, although I probably won’t be motivated to re-read it any time soon.

Murder, mystery
and love: on the pages of a book…
and the streets of Spain.

Summary: Daniel, the son of a used-book seller, is ten when he discovers a mysterious book called The Shadow of the Wind, by the author Julián Carax. Immediately enthralled by the story it tells, Daniel sets out to discover more about the author, and to find more of his books. However, Carax’s history is shrouded in secrecy, and his books are impossible to find – for years, someone has been buying or stealing every copy of Carax’s books in existence… and burning them. Daniel eventually comes face to face with this man, who is calling himself Laín Coubert – the name taken by the Devil in The Shadow of the Wind. Daniel, however, will not be dissuaded from finding out about Carax’s life, and he slowly begins to uncover a epic tale of love, loss, lies, and the deepest secrets the Barcelona streets can hold.

Review: When this book was recommended to me, I came to check it out, and it seemed as though it would be a good fit to my interests, and when the ratings and reviews made it seem like most people loved it in the way that you love really extraordinary books. When I got my hands on a copy of the book, however, one of the blurbs on the back described it as “Gabriel García Márquez meets Umberto Eco.” “Uh-oh”, I thought to myself… “everyone seems to love this book, but everyone seems to love Gabriel García Márquez, too, and both of his books that you’ve read have left you somewhat ambivalent. And let’s not even get started on what you thought of Name of the Rose…”

Happily I enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind more than I did either of the authors to which it was compared. While I can see why those comparisons were drawn, The Shadow of the Wind actually reminded me more than anything of The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield – a dark, twisting, Gothic novel, filled with swirling mists, buried secrets, and the smell of old books.

The writing in this book is beautiful, very evocative and full of linguistic twists and turns that must have been a pain to translate. But while I objectively realize it’s quite a good book, and I did enjoy it, it didn’t quite draw me in the way I wanted it too. It was a little too dense to fit my mood at the moment; a little too full of rambling bits that ultimately went nowhere, paragraphs of evocative descriptive detail that seemed to serve no purpose but to be evocative, and a mystery that remained mysterious until the end, but whose creepiness petered out into melodrama about halfway through. For a different reader (or me in a different mood), I can easily see how this book would have been wonderful, but as is, I just never got involved in it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you liked The Thirteenth Tale – or Gothic-feeling mysteries in general – and are feeling up to a somewhat dense read, I’d definitely give this one a shot.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: The Boston Bibliophile, Everyday Reads
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.


  • p. 40: “It was obvious that, as well as books, incunabula, and all manner of arcane bibliography, Don Gustavo also collected statues, paintings, and altarpieces, not to mention abundant fauna and flora.” – extant copies of books produced in the earliest stages (before 1501) of printing from movable type.
11 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2008 2:50 am

    Hi Fyrefly! I read this book last year and now that you mentioned it, it is somewhat reminiscent of The Thirteenth Tale (though back then I’ve yet to read Setterfield’s novel) :)

    Here’s the link to my rambling post about Zafon’s story:

  2. December 22, 2008 3:28 am

    This book has been gathering dust on my shelf for at least 6 months or better. Haven’t picked it up yet. I had to laugh at your comparison to The Thirteenth Tale, because that one is gathering dust right next to The Shadow of the Wind on the shelf. Haven’t yet read that one either.

    Oy, I’m behind.

    I enjoyed the review, though, because now I have a better idea of what to expect. You’re right, you know….sometimes you have to be in a certain mood/frame of mind for a book to work for you.

  3. December 22, 2008 8:43 am

    Hmm – that sounds interesting and thought provoking, since the genre was hard to pin down and the verdict is unclear.

  4. December 22, 2008 9:11 am

    Lightheaded – I’ve added your link – My reader doesn’t always pick up on links that far back, so thanks! (And I’m pretty sure I was pronouncing it Jool-yen in my head, despite many, many years of Spanish classes, so… oops. :)

    Michele – Hee hee, so at least your TBR shelving system is accurate! It’s weird, because I read (listened to) Thirteenth Tale right before Christmas a few years ago, and LOVED it, and this one’s pretty similar, but it just didn’t do it for me this year… who knows why?

    bermudaonion – It was recommended to me as someone who likes fantasy, but I think that’s not particularly right – may be partly why my reaction to it was iffy? My best single classification would be Literary Mystery… although it’s technically historical fiction, the historical fiction-y parts of it weren’t really the main point, if that makes sense.

  5. December 22, 2008 5:20 pm

    You actually really made me want to give it a shot! It sounds like one to save for when I have a lot of availability and reading time, though.

  6. December 23, 2008 1:11 pm

    Nymeth – I bet you would like it… I think it’s a really good book, it just didn’t gel with my reading mood at the moment.

  7. December 29, 2008 10:39 am

    I haven’t read the Thirteenth Tale, but this sounds like a good book. off to put it on the tbr list.

  8. December 30, 2008 9:35 am

    Serena – If you’re busy adding stuff to your TBR list, I’d definitely add The Thirteenth Tale as well!

  9. May 23, 2012 1:52 am

    my favorite book…


  1. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón « Word Lily
  2. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón | Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity

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