#1 - The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Today I had an interview for a job with Borders Books (holla at yo' discount!). The manager asked me what was the last book I read and how I would recommend it to a customer. PERFECT question in regard to this review I'm writing.
So of course, I told her how I read The Shadow of the Wind and how much I fucking adored this book (a little less crudely said, of course). I was hired. Thanks, book!
In post-Spanish Civil War Barcelona, Daniel Sempere is brought to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father when he is 10 years old. The Cemetery is a place where books go when they no longer have an owner. Upon his visit, Daniel is permitted to bring home a book of his choice in order to preserve its memory. Every book has a soul, he is told, and by reading a book from the Cemetery, he is helping its spirit grow.
The book he chooses, The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax, puts him on what becomes a dangerous journey to uncover the secrets of the little known author's life. In the meantime, a mysterious man is scouring the city for Carax's books so he can burn them, erasing any memory of the author and his books. Over the next 10 years of Daniel's life, we also see how the book and his ensuing quest have shaped him as a person.
The lone fact that the story takes place in Barcelona sold me. The book is about Barcelona and its history just as much as it is about Daniel. I spent 3 days in Barcelona as part of my post-grad Eurotrip and recognized most of the places and streets that Zafón describes in the book. Like Daniel (and millions of other people), I walked down Las Ramblas, went up to Montjüic, etc. It's all very cool to see. I only wish that I had read the book before visiting Barcelona so I could have followed the map at the end of the book and done my own little tour. Now I have even more reason to return. Playing into the history of the city, Zafón shows how the Spanish Civil War and the Franco era affected the characters and their actions.
The best thing about The Shadow of the Wind was that it constantly surprised me. Every time I thought I was doing a good job of piecing the story together, Zafón literally slapped me across the face with something new, leaving my theories completely worthless. He made me feel like my time (and money) spent in college, analyzing papers and books, was time not-so-well spent. And you know what? I liked it. I liked the challenge and the fact that I didn't know where the story was going next. It was unpredictable without being outlandish and silly.
I've read plenty of books where the characters announce their love for one another, but they were just empty declarations and promises that lacked any real substance. Zafón forces you to ache with the characters when he tells their stories of lost or unrequited love. His descriptions are so vivid that I never once thought that these characters were caricatures, conjured up purely for entertainment purposes. I cared for them and related to them. He takes great care in developing them into multi-dimensional people who have their flaws. Daniel isn't a perfect human being nor is the villain arbitrarily pure evil.
As I neared the end, I realized that I didn't want the book to end, yet I was desperate to know its conclusion. That's how I know a book is good - when I never want the reading experience to end, but can't wait to see what happens next.
Lucky for me, there's a (kind of) prequel to the book in The Angel's Game which apparently has similar motifs and also takes place in Barcelona. Looking forward to that.