Set in the streets of Barcelona around the time of the Civil War, The Shadow Of The Wind delivers poetic melancholy, gothic description and a bookworm’s thriller.
Daniel Sempere is just 10 years old when his father takes him to Barcelona’s “Cemetery of Forgotten Books.” Inside this library, near-mythical bookkeepers have rescued and preserved obscure titles and discontinued lines. Daniel is allowed to choose just one – and feels himself drawn to The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax.
Young, impressionable and infatuated with the novel, Daniel searches for other titles by the same author. So far, so normal.
However, despite being the son of a bookseller, this proves much harder than expected. Carax’s novels have all but disappeared in blazing fires and crazy auctions from Paris to Barcelona. What’s more, Daniel is being stalked by a faceless man, Lain Coubert, namely the devil in Carax’s original book. Thus begins a mystery that consumes Daniel’s life (and the rest of the book, naturally.)
The Shadow of the Wind has been immensely popular – and I’m not just basing this on my own anecdotal evidence (recommendations from a Czech, an Englishwoman and a stranger on an aeroplane.)
The language drips with poetry, which I enjoyed, however, the story dragged for me and I couldn’t really understand why the women took the sexual risks they did, given the formulaic and violent reactions from almost every man around.
I want books to grab my attention on page one and never let up, not even for a second before tumbling, breathless to the end. But I already know I’m an adrenaline junkie.
To emphasize that point, the main character even says:
“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”
With the exception of brief forays into Paris, Barcelona stars as the setting for The Shadow of the Wind. However, it’s a rainy, chilling, forlorn Barcelona, in the age of police brutality, war and oppressive ideas. So although the characters bring the streets and landmarks alive and the book itself includes a guided walk around Barcelona, I found it bore little resemblance to the vibrant 21st century city I visited.
Read it if you love gothic stories, not if you’re looking to recreate the feel of Barcelona today.
“The city is a sorceress, you know, Daniel? It gets under your skin and steals your soul without you knowing it…”
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com