As with all astounding novels, The Shadow of the Wind sends the mind groping for comparisons —The Crimson Petal and the White? The novels of Arturo Pérez-Reverte? Of Victor Hugo? Love in the Time of Cholera?—but in the end, as with all astounding novels, no comparison can suffice. As one leading Spanish reviewer wrote, “The originality of Ruiz Zafón’s voice is bombproof and displays a diabolical talent. The Shadow of the Wind announces a phenomenon in Spanish literature.” An uncannily absorbing historical mystery, a heart-piercing romance, and a moving homage to the mystical power of books, The Shadow of the Wind is a triumph of the storyteller’s art.
About the Author
LUCIA GRAVES is the author and translator of many works and has overseen Spanish-language editions of the poetry of her father, Robert Graves.
Read an Excerpt
A secret's worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept. My first thought on waking was to tell my best friend about the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Tom's Aguilar was a classmate who devoted his free time and his talent to the invention of wonderfully ingenious contraptions of dubious practicality, like the aerostatic dart or the dynamo spinning top. I pictured us both, equipped with flashlights and compasses, uncovering the mysteries of those bibliographic catacombs. Who better than Tom's to share my secret? Then, remembering my promise, I decided that circumstances advised me to adopt what in detective novels is termed a different modus operandi. At noon I approached my father to quiz him about the book and about Julián Carax-both world famous, I assumed. My plan was to get my hands on his complete works and read them all by the end of the week. To my surprise, I discovered that my father, a natural-born librarian and a walking lexicon of publishers' catalogs and oddities, had never heard of The Shadow of the Wind or Julián Carax. Intrigued, he examined the printing history on the back of the title page for clues.
"It says here that this copy is part of an edition of twenty-five hundred printed in Barcelona by Cabestany Editores, in June 1936."
"Do you know the publishing house?"
"It closed down years ago. But, wait, this is not the original. The first edition came out in November 1935 but was printed in Paris....Published by Galiano & Neuval. Doesn't ring a bell."
"So is this a translation?"
"It doesn't say so. From what I can see, the text must be the original one."
"A book in Spanish, first published in France?"
"It's not that unusual, not in times like these," my father put in. "Perhaps Barceló can help us...."
Gustavo Barceló was an old colleague of my father's who now owned a cavernous establishment on Calle Fernando with a commanding position in the city's secondhand-book trade. Perpetually affixed to his mouth was an unlit pipe that impregnated his person with the aroma of a Persian market. He liked to describe himself as the last romantic, and he was not above claiming that a remote line in his ancestry led directly to Lord Byron himself. As if to prove this connection, Barceló fashioned his wardrobe in the style of a nineteenth-century dandy. His casual attire consisted of a cravat, white patent leather shoes, and a plain glass monocle that, according to malicious gossip, he did not remove even in the intimacy of the lavatory. Flights of fancy aside, the most significant relative in his lineage was his begetter, an industrialist who had become fabulously wealthy by questionable means at the end of the nineteenth century. According to my father, Gustavo Barceló was, technically speaking, loaded, and his palatial bookshop was more of a passion than a business. He loved books unreservedly, and-although he denied this categorically-if someone stepped into his bookshop and fell in love with a tome he could not afford, Barceló would lower its price, or even give it away, if he felt that the buyer was a serious reader and not an accidental browser. Barceló also boasted an elephantine memory allied to a pedantry that matched his demeanor and the sonority of his voice. If anyone knew about odd books, it was he. That afternoon, after closing the shop, my father suggested that we stroll along to the Els Quatre Gats, a café on Calle Montsió, where Barceló and his bibliophile knights of the round table gathered to discuss the finer points of decadent poets, dead languages, and neglected, moth-ridden masterpieces.
Els Quatre Gats was just a five-minute walk from our house and one of my favorite haunts. My parents had met there in 1932, and I attributed my one-way ticket into this world in part to the old café's charms. Stone dragons guarded a lamplit façade anchored in shadows. Inside, voices seemed shaded by the echoes of other times. Accountants, dreamers, and would-be geniuses shared tables with the specters of Pablo Picasso, Isaac Albéniz, Federico García Lorca, and Salvador Dalí. There any poor devil could pass for a historical figure for the price of a small coffee.
"Sempere, old man," proclaimed Barceló when he saw my father come in. "Hail the prodigal son. To what do we owe the honor?"
"You owe the honor to my son, Daniel, Don Gustavo. He's just made a discovery."
"Well, then, pray come and sit down with us, for we must celebrate this ephemeral event," he announced.
"Ephemeral?" I whispered to my father.
"Barceló can express himself only in frilly words," my father whispered back. "Don't say anything, or he'll get carried away."
The lesser members of the coterie made room for us in their circle, and Barceló, who enjoyed flaunting his generosity in public, insisted on treating us.
"How old is the lad?" inquired Barceló, inspecting me out of the corner of his eye.
"Almost eleven," I announced.
Barceló flashed a sly smile.
"In other words, ten. Don't add on any years, you rascal. Life will see to that without your help."
A few of his chums grumbled in assent. Barceló signaled to a waiter of such remarkable decrepitude that he looked as if he should be declared a national landmark.
"A cognac for my friend Sempere, from the good bottle, and a cinnamon milk shake for the young one-he's a growing boy. Ah, and bring us some bits of ham, but spare us the delicacies you brought us earlier, eh? If we fancy rubber, we'll call for Pirelli tires."
The waiter nodded and left, dragging his feet.
"I hate to bring up the subject," Barceló said, "but how can there be jobs? In this country nobody ever retires, not even after they're dead. Just look at El Cid. I tell you, we're a hopeless case."
He sucked on his cold pipe, eyes already scanning the book in my hands. Despite his pretentious façade and his verbosity, Barceló could smell good prey the way a wolf scents blood.
"Let me see," he said, feigning disinterest. "What have we here?"
I glanced at my father. He nodded approvingly. Without further ado, I handed Barceló the book. The bookseller greeted it with expert hands. His pianist's fingers quickly explored its texture, consistency, and condition. He located the page with the publication and printer's notices and studied it with Holmesian flair. The rest watched in silence, as if awaiting a miracle, or permission to breathe again.
"Carax. Interesting," he murmured in an inscrutable tone.
I held out my hand to recover the book. Barceló arched his eyebrows but gave it back with an icy smile.
"Where did you find it, young man?"
"It's a secret," I answered, knowing that my father would be smiling to himself. Barceló frowned and looked at my father. "Sempere, my dearest old friend, because it's you and because of the high esteem I hold you in, and in honor of the long and profound friendship that unites us like brothers, let's call it at forty duros, end of story."
"You'll have to discuss that with my son," my father pointed out. "The book is his."
Barceló granted me a wolfish smile. "What do you say, laddie? Forty duros isn't bad for a first sale....Sempere, this boy of yours will make a name for himself in the business."
The choir cheered his remark. Barceló gave me a triumphant look and pulled out his leather wallet. He ceremoniously counted out two hundred pesetas, which in those days was quite a fortune, and handed them to me. But I just shook my head. Barceló scowled.
"Dear boy, greed is most certainly an ugly, not to say mortal, sin. Be sensible. Call me crazy, but I'll raise that to sixty duros, and you can open a retirement fund. At your age you must start thinking of the future."
I shook my head again. Barceló shot a poisonous look at my father through his monocle.
"Don't look at me," said my father. "I'm only here as an escort."
Barceló sighed and peered at me closely.
"Let's see, junior. What is it you want?"
"What I want is to know who Julián Carax is and where I can find other books he's written."
Barceló chuckled and pocketed his wallet, reconsidering his adversary.
"Goodness, a scholar. Sempere, what do you feed the boy?"
The bookseller leaned toward me confidentially, and for a second I thought he betrayed a look of respect that had not been there a few moments earlier.
"We'll make a deal," he said. "Tomorrow, Sunday, in the afternoon, drop by the Ateneo library and ask for me. Bring your precious find with you so that I can examine it properly, and I'll tell you what I know about Julián Carax. Quid pro quo."
"Quid pro what?"
"Latin, young man. There's no such thing as dead languages, only dormant minds. Paraphrasing, it means that you can't get something for nothing, but since I like you, I'm going to do you a favor."
The man's oratory could kill flies in midair, but I suspected that if I wanted to find out anything about Julián Carax, I'd be well advised to stay on good terms with him. I proffered my most saintly smile in delight at his Latin outpourings.
"Remember, tomorrow, in the Ateneo," pronounced the bookseller. "But bring the book, or there's no deal."
Our conversation slowly merged into the murmuring of the other members of the coffee set. The discussion turned to some documents found in the basement of El Escorial that hinted at the possibility that Don Miguel de Cervantes had in fact been the nom de plume of a large, hairy lady of letters from Toledo. Barceló seemed distracted, not tempted to claim a share in the debate. He remained quiet, observing me from his fake monocle with a masked smile. Or perhaps he was only looking at the book I held in my hands.
What People are Saying About This
Winner of the 2012 Fifty Books/Fifty Covers show, organized by Design Observer in association with AIGA and Designers & Books
Winner of the 2014 Type Directors Club Communication Design Award
Praise for Shadow of the Wind:
"Gabriel García Márquez meets Umberto Eco meets Jorge Luis Borges for a sprawling magic show."
—The New York Times Book Review
“ Anyone who enjoys novels that are scary, erotic, touching, tragic and thrilling should rush right out to the nearest bookstore and pick up The Shadow of the Wind. Really, you should.”
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"Wonderous... masterful... The Shadow of the Wind is ultimately a love letter to literature, intended for readers as passionate about storytelling as its young hero."
—Entertainment Weekly (Editor's Choice)
"One gorgeous read."
Praise for Penguin Drop Caps:
"[Penguin Drop Caps] convey a sense of nostalgia for the tactility and aesthetic power of a physical book and for a centuries-old tradition of beautiful lettering."
“Vibrant, minimalist new typographic covers…. Bonus points for the heartening gender balance of the initial selections.”
—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
"The Penguin Drop Caps series is a great example of the power of design. Why buy these particular classics when there are less expensive, even free editions of Great Expectations? Because they’re beautiful objects. Paul Buckley and Jessica Hische’s fresh approach to the literary classics reduces the design down to typography and color. Each cover is foil-stamped with a cleverly illustrated letterform that reveals an element of the story. Jane Austen’s A (Pride and Prejudice) is formed by opulent peacock feathers and Charlotte Bronte’s B (Jane Eyre) is surrounded by flames. The complete set forms a rainbow spectrum prettier than anything else on your bookshelf."
—Rex Bonomelli, The New York Times
"Classic reads in stunning covers—your book club will be dying."
Reading Group Guide
The Shadow of the Wind is a coming-of-age tale of a young boy who, through the magic of a single book, finds a purpose greater than himself and a hero in a man he's never met. With the passion of García Márquez, the irony of Dickens, and the necromancy of Poe, Carlos Ruiz Zafón spins a web of intrigue so thick that it ensnares the reader from the very first line. The Shadow of the Wind is an ode to the art of reading, but it is also the perfect example of the all-encompassing power of a well-told story.
At the first light of dawn in postwar Barcelona, a bookseller leads his motherless son to a mysterious crypt called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This labyrinthine sanctuary houses the books that have lost their owners, books that are no longer remembered by anyone. It is here that ten-year-old Daniel Sempere pulls a single book—The Shadow of the Wind—off of the dusty shelves to adopt as his own. With one fateful turn of a page, he begins an adventure that will unravel another man's tragedy and solve a mystery that has already taken many lives and will shape his entire future.
When Daniel speaks with Gustavo Barceló, a local booktrader, to find out more about his new treasure, word begins to spread that he has uncovered a long-sought rarity, perhaps the only copy of any of Julián Carax's works in existence. Soon after, a mysterious stranger whom Daniel recognizes as Laín Coubert, the leather-masked, cigarette-smoking devil from Carax's novel, propositions Daniel, offering to buy the book from him for an astronomical price. Daniel refuses, in spite of the man's thinly veiled threats. With the help of his bookselling friends, Daniel discovers that Laín Coubert has cut a swath of destruction through two countries, methodically searching for and destroying all of Carax's books while erasing every trace of Carax's life.
ABOUT CARLOS RUIZ ZAFON
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, thirty-nine, grew up in Barcelona and currently lives in Los Angeles. The Shadow of the Wind spent more than a year on the Spanish bestseller list, much of it at number one, and has sold in more than twenty countries.
A CONVERSATION WITH CARLOS RUIZ ZAFON
Q. This is your sixth novel, and it has been sold in twenty countries and translated into several languages. What do you think accounts for its worldwide appeal? Do you find that readers here in the States respond differently from Spanish readers?
I think it is all about the story, the characters, the pleasure of the language and of the imagination, the experience of the read. American readers respond to The Shadow of the Wind in the very same way as Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, Australian, French, British, or German readers do. The pleasure of reading a great story and to experience the characters' adventures is universal.
Q. Daniel promises to show Bea a Barcelona that she's never seen. From the paintings of Joan Miro to the imaginative architecture of Antoni Gaudí, what is it about Barcelona that lends itself to fantasy? Do you believe, as Daniel says to Bea, that "the memory of this city will pursue you and you'll die of sadness"?
Barcelona provides an enchanting, mysterious, and romantic setting for the story because many things about the place, its streets, its history, and its people are unique. It is also my hometown, a place I know like the palm of my hand, and I wanted to use this fantastic backdrop as an organic character, very much like the great novelists of the nineteenth century did in creating the London of Dickens, the Paris of Victor Hugo and Balzac, etc. Hopefully, after reading the novel the memory of Barcelona and the joy of the story will pursue the readers as well.
Q. Daniel says, "Once, in my father's bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart" (p. 8). What book was that for you? Are there any forgotten books you would like to rescue from obscurity?
I would say than rather than just one book, for me what did the trick was the world of storytelling, of language, of ideas. All books, all stories, all words and ideas, all the possibilities of the mind—such an infinite universe of wonders is what did me in and I haven't looked back. And I would like to save all books, those that are banned, those that are burned, or forgotten with contempt by the mandarins who want to tell us what is good and what is bad. Every book has a soul, as Daniel's father says, and I believe every book is worth saving from either bigotry or oblivion.
Q. Your work has been compared to Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and Umberto Eco. Comparisons could also be drawn between Shadow and the works of filmmaker Pedro Almodovar—the overt sexuality, the parents' sins visited on the children, the prismatic storytelling. Do you agree with any of these comparisons? Who, if anyone, do you consider your biggest influence?
I think many direct and indirect influences go into each author's work. In my case I believe I incorporate many elements from many different traditions of storytelling, from the Victorian novelists to the metafictional literary games that remind some readers of The Name of the Rose, as well as other techniques that come from a cinematic approach. My ambition is to blend all of those storytelling tools to provide the reader with a more intense, more engaging, and ultimately deeper reading experience. The wider the author's arsenal of tools and the better technically equipped the storyteller is, the better the tale will be. I believe the craft is the most important element in any artist's work, and I try to learn from everything, to incorporate and develop as many techniques as I can into my own voice. I don't ask for credentials or classic status: from Dickens to Orson Welles, from Gothic fiction to Japanese anime. If it works, I'm in.
Q. This book is obviously an ode to books and to the art of reading. You have Bea state that "the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that only offers us what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day" (p. 484). Do you believe this to be true? Do you share Fermín's disdain for television?
I believe it is in our hands. Now more than ever, I believe it is up to us to decide if we want to think by ourselves, or if we want to accept and submit to what others would rather have us believe. As for TV, well, I share many of Fermín's views. I'd say TV is a very powerful medium, which can be used, and sometimes it is used, to accomplish great things. Unfortunately, those are exceptions to the rule. But blaming TV as an abstract entity is nonsensical. It's our hand on the remote. There's a world out there outside the tube. Life's short: Wake up and live.
Q. The Aldaya Mansion, the allegedly cursed Angel of the Mist, seems to be a character in its own right. It has a life of its own, creaking, moaning, and breathing fire in its belly. Where did you draw your inspiration for your novel's gothic centerpiece? Are you attracted to haunted houses, the supernatural, and other horror story trappings? Do you believe in curses?
I don't believe in the supernatural, but I think it provides excellent material for literary purposes. Ghost stories are great tools to explore symbolic and atavistic elements in a narrative. Shakespeare, Dickens, and Henry James used ghosts and phantasmagoric trappings in order to add layers of meaning and effectiveness to their stories. At the end of the day, it is all fiction, poetry, and magic. Real curses, however, don't dwell in dark basements but in our hearts and conscience. We make our own moral choices, sometimes far spookier than any horror tale, and the terrors of this world are far too real and ordinary.
Q. There are many casualties of love in your novel, not just the star-crossed love between Julián and Penélope, but also the love that makes Miquel Moliner and Nuria Monfort both lay down their lives for Julián. Why do you think we are fascinated with ill-fated tragedies of love?
Because that's the stuff that thing called life is made of. Love, deception, tragedy, joy, passion, murder, jealousy, lust, fear, generosity, friendship, betrayal . . . Human nature provides the lyrics, and we novelists just compose the music.
Q. Fermín once says of the cinema, "Between you and me, this business of the seventh art leaves me cold. As far as I can see, it's only a way of fueling the mindless and making them even more stupid. Worse than football or bullfights. The cinema began as an invention for entertaining the illiterate masses. Fifty years on it's much the same." Yet your narrative is cinematic in scope, its images lifelike and grand. You are also a screenwriter. Would you like to see your novel become a movie? If so, who would you have portraying the characters, and who would make the movie?
I have no particular wish to see a film made of the novel. I don't believe everything has to become a movie, a video game, a TV show, a T-shirt, or a piece of merchandising as a matter of course or just because the almighty dollar says so. I believe nothing can tell a story, explore the universe of its characters and its many wonders with the depth, joy, and effectiveness of a novel if it is done right. This is a book for people who love to read, who love books and reading, and it will remain so. Nobody can make a better film of this novel than the one you'll start to see when you begin to read its first pages. Film is a very interesting narrative language, and I use many of its elements—techniques from the grammar of images—to enrich the construction of the novel, but it is just one more piece in a much bigger puzzle. The greatest multiplex in the universe is inside your mind, and the only ticket you need is a good, well-written novel.
Q. To ask you a question you once asked author Christopher Fowler: The world ends next month and you've time to write one last book/story. What would it be about?
You always write about yourself, know it or not, so I would just floor it to make the doomsday deadline and finish the novel I'm working on right now, which picks up this literary experiment of blending genres and traditions from where The Shadow of the Wind left it and takes it one, or two, steps further.