Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

 

I gobbled up every page in this book (all 500+ of them) in a matter of days. I’m a slow reader but by abandoning all my daily responsibilities, showering less, and taking the book with me to the bathroom; I was done reading in less than a week. And I regret nothing! Except maybe that I didn’t read it sooner (because I thought it would be just another generic work for the popular fiction isle). And someone may disagree but this is anything but generic. Inside this heavy tome lies a plethora of genuine and original thought. The main theme of these thoughts could be categorised under ‘Spanish history’ but under that there is still more; layers of it, which you won’t even pick up on your first reading.

This book is for book lovers. It was created to enjoy on paper (or digital ink, I guess) and process its narrative privately not shared with others in a theatre. Zafón has already refused offers of adapting this book into a film (fun fact: his background is in screen writing) because its whole purpose is to exist on the page as a piece of writing to look down upon every other literary work of its time as it grows in its superiority over every other modern publication. I’m overexaggerating (no I’m not) because this book deserves to be flattered. Just look at how funny it is:

Women have an infallible instinct for knowing when a man has fallen madly in love with them, especially when the male in question is both young and a complete dunce. (p.26-7)

He is referring here to the main protagonist Daniel, who is being self-deprecating in reflection of his younger days. I know quoting things out of context has never made them funny, but I hope this at least foreshadows the book’s sense of self-awareness. I don’t know how to read in Spanish, so I have no way of knowing what decisions the translator made when interpreting this work. But I didn’t feel, as I do when I read translations of Russian literature, like I’m missing some vital meaning that English takes away from a more complex language in the translating process. Although I’m sure reading the original would have been very rewarding.

There’s plenty more cleverness in this book that is displayed in the philosophical way its characters reflect:

‘People are evil.’

‘Not evil,’ Fermin objected. ‘Moronic, which isn’t quite the same thing. Evil presupposes a moral decision, intention, and some forethought. A moron or a lout, however, doesn’t stop to think or reason. He acts on instinct, like an animal, convinced that he’s doing good, that he’s always right, and sanctimoniously proud to go around fucking up, if you’ll excuse the French, anyone he perceives to be different from himself, be it of skin colour, creed, language, nationality or, as in the case of Don Federico, his leisure pursuits. What the world really needs are more thoroughly evil people and fewer borderline pigheads. (p.158)

This is pretty dense on first reading, and I encourage you to process it properly because for me this quote summarised the frustration I feel in response to current events. This quote explains why you, when you see injustice in the world, feel helpless and angry. Why you struggle to understand why people do what they do, and how could they hurt others. In case you were wondering, Don Federico’s ‘leisure pursuits’ are cross-dressing as a fabulous diva. And Fermin responds to his brutal beating for said ‘leisure pursuits’ in the above quote.

Fermin is easily the most lovable character I’ve ever encountered. Daniel, the narrator-protagonist, finds Fermin on the streets of Barcelona and helps him get a job. Honestly, this book just kept ticking all my boxes and strumming on my heart strings for all the kindness its protagonists displayed.

I know some people have said they felt like the first half of the book is something you have to go through to get rewarded for all the built-up suspense and mystery but personally, despite the hefty length, there wasn’t a dull moment. The whole plot felt like it was well thought-out.

The book plays on the phrasing of the title a lot with lots of mentions of ‘shadows’ and ‘wind’ throughout the story but, surprisingly enough, that wasn’t that annoying. I suspect the Spanish language has several words for ‘shadow’ and ‘wind’ and that the author made use of them but in English it stood out and at time became a little repetitive. But it worked out.

The only thing left is to ask: what on earth is a shadow of the wind? My personal theory is that the wind is the violence of history which passes through time, destroying everything in its wake. And the shadows are the shadows of history overshadowing our present, the present is, after all, influenced by past events. So, the Shadow of the Wind becomes the violence of past wars, or violence in general, casting an oblique darkness on the present. Zafón mentions in one of his interviews that no one in his family ever spoke about the war or the horrors of what happened. It seems, according to Zafón, no one wanted to speak but the walls told stories of the violence and horror of those times…

If you’re interested in what Barcelona would look like through Zafón’s eyes, dark that is, check out his Instagram. I have a sneaking suspicion he used a lot of filter to get rid of all that pesky sunlight, nonetheless, the photos all came out beautiful. And if you’re in Barcelona, I recommend taking ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ walking tour; and then letting me know if it’s any good. No really, I’m curious.

 

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