Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Shadow Of The Wind

How do you summarize a novel that’s a mystery, a supernatural thriller, a love story, a coming-of-age story all bundled up in 500 pages? Politics, love, books, loss and life all come together in this slightly melodramatic but enthralling debut by Zafon. Set in Barcelona in 1945, just after the Civil war, the book follows the protagonist Daniel; from the day he walks with his father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and picks the eponymously titled book written by one Julian Carax. We follow Daniel as his life (and others’ too) is forever changed by this choice as he attempts to solve a mystery surrounding the Carax book.

What worked for me
The meta theme. A book about a book, a mystery about the mystery. The power of books, how they shape our lives. I also liked the locale. I have a thing for exotic locales. Its arm chair travel. Here I saw Barcelona so closely that when I drove to work, I thought I just needed to make a turn here and I would reach Calla Ana and sit at a café and order coffee and sponge fingers. I am also learning Spanish these days, so a novel set in Spain was bit of a thrill. The era also worked for me. Early to mid-century. The quaint customs, the strange ways. The book is rich. Like a tapestry. Plots and characters weave in and out, all giving their (flawed) versions of a story, or rather the mystery that forms the backbone of the narrative.

It’s verbose, yes and every minor character is painted in detail and I found asking myself why I was not bored by it. Perhaps it’s the tight rein that Zafon holds, never letting the words fall completely overboard (this is exactly what I thought after reading Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, she has a tight rein there too). Why did I feel invested in these characters so much that it mattered to me which church the governess of a character attended. Perhaps it’s the language - the book is originally in Spanish and is translated by Lucia Graves, who I must say has done a terrific job of translating the lyrical, almost epic language of the book. Or perhaps it was the mystery itself and I looked for clues in the most unexpected places, asking myself, will this matter how the mystery is solved? Will the mystery be even solved?

The book is a wild roller coaster ride that will give you butterflies in your stomach, that will take you on hairpin curves and to great heights only to drop you and turn you upside down until you scream – in delight or in terror (or both) – finally coming to a stop. All the while hoping and praying the end is not disappointing. When a book takes you on a ride like this, the only thing you fear is being disappointed in the end. But the book ends on an agreeable note. And it comes to a full circle and you all know how I fall for things like that.

What did not work for me
The mystery is not the best mystery in the world. I solved most of it. What also did not quite work for me were the supernatural horror elements in the book. They add to the atmosphere, yes, but they kept me awake a whole night. I don’t like horror. I don’t like to be scared (and yes, I scare easy).

Hot or drop
Totally hot. This is Hitchcock on steroids. It’s an unputdownable book. Don’t miss this one. Also, a question -if you were to pick a book that would change your life in a literal, day-to-day events way, which one would it be?


Altoid said...

To answer the question at the end : I will have to say one of the 3 of my all-time favorite Paulo Coelho's- Alchemist, Zahir and Veronika decides to die. I know most people don't relate to his work, but his words speak to me in a very un-fictionlike way. Hence I don't consider his works fiction per se, just a story-like way to present philosophy.

Shilpa said...

I imagine your description of the book is just as entertaining and exiting as the book itself... Really your style in this was... what word am I looking for... ornamental... :)

I recently read 'Many lives many masters' by Brian L. Weiss and it didn't really shake me up, but it deeply influenced me. I always believed in reincarnation, but reading this book made me feel like it was just a confirmation of my beliefs, and astonishingly to me, it seemed like the book had answers to some of the things I have always wondered about. The subject matter and some details in the book are very intriguing, the wording and writing is not that great.

I made my husband, the non-believer in anything and everything supernatural, read it, and he too went - Hmmm that was something.

Shilpa said...

Ok forgot to ask,

How does one stumble into exciting books like these to find good material to read? Go through best seller lists? Please advise.


Mama - Mia said...

wow! Hitchcock on steroids would be the one line i would pick up if i had to from this brilliant review of what looks like an NOT to be missed read! :D

books usually entertain me. Two books that touched a chord for me would be Mrityunjay and a lovely book called A Prayer of the Frog written by a Father (church variety). I lost that book and havent been able to lay my hands on another one ever since! :(

adding this book to my ever expanding reading list!



Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

Phew! What a reiew! I need to catch my breath! Sounds lie a definite-read, but when, oh when? My list just keeps growing and my bookshelves just keep groaning! Sigh!

On another note, you've been tagged!

Priya said...

hey dottie,

nice to know someone else read "ineritance of loss". I found the book depressive though.

interesting review. I may pick it up soon at the library.


DotThoughts said...

altoid: I have to read Veronika.

Shilpa: well, I troll Amazon - I like their recommendations. Also book clubs. I am a part of a book club. This was my recommendation, but have found fab books through my book loving friends.

Mama-mia: prayer of the frog... intriguing.

m-4. tagged? right there.

priya: yeah, inheritance was definately not a chirpy book. but it was pensive, I thought.

Casuarina said...

'The Razor's Edge' by Somerset Maugham would rank high on my own list, I think, to answer the valedictory question ...