There are a few but very good reasons why I love to read. To explore and get lost. To learn and grow in understanding. To be serenaded by words I don’t get from songs and conversations. And to be enchanted. For us book lovers, the pages of a book contain magic that makes life bearable for the suffering and less mundane for the disenchanted.
Last weekend I chose The Shadow of the Wind from my pile of over a hundred books waiting to be read. It was a late Saturday afternoon and the ache of my tooth and swell of my gums were worsening. I decided to have myself checked to get a more potent medicine. I wanted a magical mystery to keep me intact until the meds had done their job.
Like the hundreds of books I possess here in Batangas and Cebu, I got The Shadow of the Wind from Booksale. The back cover blurb said that this novel is a book lover’s book hence I brought it home. When I finally read it six months later, I couldn’t put it down. I raced through the novel’s 500 enchanting pages.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s story was set in Barcelona during the era of Spanish Civil War. One cold morning, eleven-year old Daniel Sempere was brought by his father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, an enclave in the city known to only very few. There he discovered the novel ‘Shadow of the Wind’ by Julian Carax. The novel haunted him for the rest of his teenage years. His copy is coveted and might just be the last remaining. A mysterious identity is relentless in acquiring all copies of Carax’s books to be burned and forgotten for eternity.
Carax and his novel gnawed Daniel like a disease that may only be cured by the knowledge of Julian Carax’s fate. As Barcelona comes to terms with the remnants of the war, Daniel struggles with the initiations of adulthood: infatuation, first love, lust, familial relationship, betrayal, loyalty, friendship.
The Shadow of the Wind is a multi-layered novel, its architecture intricate. Zafon lets the reader navigate the Barcelona of Daniel’s youth. Then he draws the reader deeper to a troubled Barcelona when Julian was growing up and coping with his desperate poverty, a city barbaric for its military-led bloodshed. The ultimate layer is Julian’s book itself, the story’s most enigmatic presence. In the midst of all these, the reader never gets lost. Zafon kept me fascinated and enchanted by the upheavals of the period and hypnotized by Daniel and Julian’s parallel lives.
The Shadow of the Wind is indeed a book lover’s book. Here, literature nourished the characters in the face human cruelties. The world of books bound the characters from Daniel’s introduction to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books until the story’s conclusion, when it was his turn to bring his son to the same secret enclave some 20 years later.
When Julian seemed to have lost everything, the stories he was writing sustained him. And when the now adult Daniel recognized that the sales of his bookshop lessen year by year, he remains an optimist that his business will go up again one day. Reading won’t fade away so long as there are humans and societies invested in the power of literature. ‘Reading is an intimate ritual, a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind.’
A week had passed since I immersed myself in the pages of The Shadow of the Wind. My aching tooth and swollen gums were not healed yet and a root canal procedure is already inevitable. After writing this personal view of the novel, I will step out of the house for the neighborhood’s 6 p.m. mass. I am deeply grateful that I’ve read this novel at this point in my life. Each time I finish a book, I always have this sense that I’ve just been given a gift I don’t normally receive. It is the gift of experience and understanding that take years to be earned in the course of day to day living and only received after being lost in a profound story. Read The Shadow of the Wind and may you be enchanted as I had been.