Reading,  Review

Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind

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by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

So, I found this on several “best genre fiction in translation lists”, and the idea of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books (the title trilogy and a location in the story) intrigued me enough to try the book. I enjoyed the read, mostly, but feel rather mislead. This book is in no way Fantasy. And I don’t mean that it doesn’t suit my definition (which I’m generous with), I mean that there is absolutely no speculative element. None.

This is a work of historical literary fiction. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, at times, it’s a beautiful thing in this book, but it’s not what I wanted, and that’s probably one of the main things that hampered my enjoyment of the book.

The Shadow of the Wind takes place in post-WWII Barcelona and is, ultimately, both a coming of age story and a romance centered, mostly, around the primary character of Daniel, only child of a widowed father who owns a bookshop. At the heart of the book is the mystery surrounding Daniel’s favourite author and why someone is systematically hunting through Europe to destroy every copy of the man’s books. There are other, smaller, mysteries in the story, and other characters with issues and tragedies in their past and present. It’s a sweeping tale that nonetheless has a very human, personal grounding.

The other major issue I have with the book is the way we learn about some of those issues and tragedies. The author has a huge tendency of the author to resolve plot points by telling a story within the story, not in a quick info-dumpy kind of way, but in a long, drawn out fashion going on for pages, or even chapters. Sometimes, by the time you get back to Daniel, you’ve almost forgotten what was going on, it had been so long.

It’s an old device, used heavily in earlier decades and centuries, to frame your narrative as if your hero is looking back from a comfortable old age, or some point later in life and the story is being told to catch you up to that present. I’m more than tired of it, and to have the same device used multiple times in the same story was extremely irritating.

Overall rating: 3 stars. The language used to tell the story is lavish and beautiful and I suspect that means the translation is nothing short of spectacular. But I never quite got over waiting for the fantasy element to slip into the book somewhere and the nested narratives just irritated me. I have to come down overall on the side of liking the book, but not nearly as much as I could have.

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