January 9, 2014

Review: Shadow Of The Wind By Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

This review will have some mild spoilers. I will try not to give any major or specific plot points away, and will speak more generally about the world, the characters, and plot concepts.

The review for Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon could be very short. It would go something like this...

"This is without a shadow of a doubt the best all-round book I've ever read. It's easily a 10 out of 10 for me, and anyone who likes books at all should read it."

End scene.

If I could describe the overall feel of this book, it's like it strikes a near perfect balance between literary, artistic fiction (like Yann Martel or Michael Ondaatje) with formulaic, mass appeal fiction (like Tom Clancy or Dan Brown). It is both easy to read and accessible like the latter, but with the depth and complexity of the former. It's a book lover's book, but also a book for everyone. I could gush about this book for a long time. But for the sake of every sane person's attention span, I'll keep this shorter.

Do You Remember Your First Love?

The book is set in Barcelona, Spain in 1945. The Spanish Civil War just ended, though the aftermath is still felt occasionally throughout the book. A young boy named Daniel still mourns the death of his mother, and to try and cheer him up his father – who works as an antiquarian book dealer – takes him to a secret bunker called the Graveyard of Books, which served to protect thousands of books from destruction during the war. Daniel is told to pick any one book and become its guardian, and he chooses Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax.

What happens next is what sold me on this book before I ever got into the main plot line: you have a young boy falling in love with a book for the first time. He stays up until the wee hours of the night... or morning, really... reading his book under the bed sheets by candlelight. The way in which Zafon describes Daniel's adoration of the book, the way he is so captivated and pulled into its world, touches very close to home with me. You can tell that Zafon is not only a book lover who knows (as I and many others do) what it feels like to truly lose oneself in a good story, but also has the ability to express in writing those sensations in breathtaking detail. That isn't all there is to this book either, because the same superb writing that painted such a charming and evocative scene here was present through to the last page.

Michelangelo Had His Brush, Zafon His Pen

He consumes ink for its power!
What helps make this book so great is Zafon's ability to paint beautiful scenes and settings, but he does it quickly and without bloated descriptions. I used the word 'evocative' above, and that's the best word I can think of to describe his style. He always uses the right words and phrases that can seize on the reader's imagination and use it to fill in the rest. It's similar to those artists who can craft an ultra-realistic scene with only a few quick and accurate strokes of their brush. 

This ability allows him to establish beautiful settings that captures the reader's imagination quickly, so he can move on to the development of his plot and characters. And because he is able to handle those with the same crisp efficiency, the book manages to avoid lulls and slow pacing that you might see in other books. Zafon's writing style is what allows him to add in elements of every kind of literature imaginable: it has mystery, romance, suspense, comedy, tragedy, action, and probably other things I can't remember off the top of my head.

In Conclusion

This is without a shadow of a doubt the best all-round novel I've ever read. It's easily a 10 out of 10 for me, and anyone who likes books at all should read it.

End scene.

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