"Well, this is a story about books."
"About accursed books, about the man who wrote them, about a character who broke out of the pages of a novel so that he could burn it, about a betrayal and a lost friendship. It's a story of love, of hatred, and of the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind."
These words appear just under halfway through The Shadow of the Wind, and are spoken by Daniel Sempere, its narrator. 178 pages earlier, as the story opens, Daniel is taken by his bookseller father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Part of this rite of passage is that Daniel must select a book--or, to be more accurate, he must allow a book to select him. With this selection comes the responsibility to keep the book alive, to make sure that it is not forgotten. The book he selects is The Shadow of the Wind, by the mysterious Julian Carax. Daniel reads the novel in one delerious, heated night, and spends the next decade pursuing its author and his story.
But no synopsis could do justice to this rich, gorgeous feast of a novel. Set in post-Civil War Barcelona, The Shadow of the Wind is full of Gothic settings, Victorian characters, Magical Realist flourishes. There are crumbling mansions and equally crumbling aristocratic families, brutal fascist police officers and the political refugees they pursue, girls as beautiful as angels and men so horribly deformed that no one can look them in the face. But, more than anything, there are words.
Ruiz Zafon has an ease with language that most can only envy. Open the book to any page and you will find gorgeous turns of phrase which in lesser hands (and with a lesser translator, one must imagine) would be merely trite and over-written.
Everything good that you've heard about The Shadow of the Wind is true...anything negative must have been said by someone without a touch of whimsy anywhere in his life.
IF THIS TITLE INTERESTS YOU...
You'll certainly want to try some other classics of magical realism. Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin, set in a magical turn-of-the-last-century New York is gorgeous and fantastical and one of my favorite books of all time. If you're interested in heavy hitters, there is, course, the book that started it all, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the magical story of a Macondo, a small Colombian village, and the Buendias, a family whose history is inextricably linked with it.