Taste of a Poison Paradise

Oh how I love to be swept away by a book. I love to feel the emotions of the characters, and I love exclaiming exasperation by their actions that cause as much harm to me as to them. I yearn to wander down the same streets they do, especially when that’s in a foreign land, and feel as if I’m peeking around the same corners as they. And there’s nothing like texting a friend constantly with the WTFs and the OMGs while the book is sweeping me away.

All of these things occurred while I read The Shadow of the Wind. The emotions that were felt during these 487 pages were immense and numerous, and the number of “what the f*%$” texts increased significantly as I neared the end.

The recipient of those texts, my friend Sabrina, had recently read this novel and had recommended it. She sold me with the following message after she finished it herself:

“And Shadow of the Wind is AMAZING! Love, loss, friendship, trust, Barcelona.”

“Need I say more?”

Actually, no, no you do not because that sounds darn right fascinating. Fortunately for me, this book had been sitting on my bookshelf for three years since Kyle and I moved in together (he also approved). And with that, I was transported to Spain in the 1940s, and I gladly didn’t return to the present for a splendid — albeit anxiety-ridden — two weeks.

The Shadow of the Wind

“Never before had I felt trapped, seduced, and caught up in a story … the way I did with that book. Until then, reading was just a duty, a sort of fine one had to pay teachers and tutors without quite knowing why. I had never known the pleasure of reading, of exploring the recesses of the soul, of letting myself be carried away by imagination, beauty, and the mystery of fiction and language.” — The Shadow of the Wind

As the son of a book dealer, Daniel has lived a life filled with literature. You might even say his affection for books matches my own. When his mother passes at a young age, he struggles to cope with her loss, as well as his inability to remember her, so his father takes him to a secret place to hopefully whittle away his pain: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

Here, he finds the novel The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. The book is equal parts intriguing and mysterious and isn’t far from the author’s own existence, of which little is known. Daniel attempts to find other works by this intoxicating author and continuously fails. This, he learns, is because a mysterious figure in Barcelona has set out to burn every copy of every book written by Carax. And it may just be the faceless man who is seemingly stalking Daniel.

He can’t put Carax out of his mind despite increasing risks and becomes obsessed with uncovering Carax’s secrets — even as his teenage years take off and his own stories of love and plight develop. As he digs deeper into the enigmatic Carax and his past, Daniel finds parallels between his life and his favorite author’s, and he envelopes himself with mounting mysteries, murders, and corruption, all with the political and social backdrop of Franco’s Spain.

“Life has enough torturers as it is, without you going around moonlighting as a Grand Inquisitor against yourself.” — The Shadow of the Wind

The plot goes exponentially deeper and more vast than what I could ever describe without giving too much away. The New York Times basically said the same thing in its review:

“The main story is too zestfully convoluted to set out in any detail and allow space for the lush side stories that weave through it,” wrote Richard Eder in his 2004 review. Note that after this statement, Eder attempted to “briefly” summarize the book — in no less than six paragraphs.

The amount of twists and turns and unexpected surprises surpasses any literature I’ve read lately. And while writers are often praised for exceptional use of writing devices, such as imagery, symbolism, and allegories; characterization; and voice (all things that I’ve criticized or praised in many of my reviews), there is something so refreshing and mesmerizing about a book that takes it back to the basics and just delivers one hell of a story.

Not that The Shadow of the Wind doesn’t have those qualities; Zafón just uses them in a subtle way so they don’t take centerstage. He doesn’t try too hard to be poetic or overdo things with a philosophical narrative. Instead, he utilizes relatable and quick-witted dialogue and voice, so that the the best part of the book can shine. In this novel, the narrative reigns above all.

If you want to get real meta (because who doesn’t love that), The Shadow of the Wind is actually a story within a story told by another character’s story that matches the main character’s story. You get some minor stories in there too. Stay with me; I promise it’s good.

“We are puppets of our subconscious desires.” — The Shadow of the Wind

Within his many plots, Zafón uncovers a multitude of themes: coming of age, love, friendship, family, sorrow, murder, mystery, historical fiction, and I’m sure I’m missing a few. None of these motifs dominates, though; rather, they work cohesively to make you also feel the wide range of emotions that represents a single life. When I read this novel, I laughed, I felt anguish, I gasped, I cursed at such dangerous and poor decision-making. A book filled with an infinite amount of emotions and so many themes — on both a personal level, as well as a political and social one — can seem overwhelming and like an attempt to be “complex.” Zafón is too gifted as a writer for that to be the case.

“The melodrama and complications of ‘Shadow,’ expertly translated by Lucia Graves, can approach excess, though it’s a pleasurable and exceedingly well-managed excess,” continued Eder in his review. “We are taken on a wild ride — for a ride, we may occasionally feel — that executes its hairpin bends with breathtaking lurches. But there is more to say.”

And it says a lot about Spain during this era. Every character seems desperate for something and possesses feelings of fear. In this way, the book also says a lot about how a singular feeling can become all-consuming. While Shadow has many plots, themes, and emotions, one underlying sentiment tends to permeate the book’s entirety.

Zafón skillfully crafts suspenseful undertones that simmer beneath the surface, which only add to the mystery you feel while Daniel plays detective. The feeling is just enough to keep you at the edge waiting for the intensity to drop with a thud. When this happens, in the last quarter of the book, that suspense becomes all-consuming. The ending to this novel provides such a twist and honestly some fright that even if you figured out the mystery chapters ahead, you’ll feel your own heart palpitations with every page turn. The characters’ fears and anxieties become your own. And that’s exactly the kind of reaction you want from a book and author, especially one that clearly holds plot and narrative to such a high esteem.

“Making money isn’t hard in itself … What’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one’s life to.” — The Shadow of the Wind


2 thoughts on “Taste of a Poison Paradise

  1. Pingback: TBF: The Shadow of the Wind | Big Little Literature

  2. Pingback: Ranked: Reads in 2020 | Big Little Literature

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