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Daniel Sempere’s father takes him to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books when he’s ten years old. One of the cemetery rules is that on your first visit, you choose a book, take it with you, and protect it forever. Daniel chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. Daniel falls in love with this exquisitely written book and is puzzled when he find out that very few copies of the book ever sold and that his copy is one of the few still in existence. He sets out to find out more about the author of the book that he loves so much, never dreaming of the secrets he will uncover over the next ten years.
I don’t think I’ve ever read many, if any, books by Spanish authors. So I’m reading along, starting to fall under this book’s spell, and I all of a sudden started thinking about the movie “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Then I started worrying that maybe that brutal kind of sucker punch that happened at the end of the movie was a trademark of Spanish writers in general. And I think that affected the way I read the rest of the book. I think that if I ever go back and re-read it, I will enjoy it more. But this time around, I was afraid to let myself get too attached to anyone. Weird, I know. I wish that hadn’t happened.
All in all, this was a really good book. It had that melodramatic feel that I’ve loved in Jane Eyre and The Thirteenth Tale. There were several twists and turns that grabbed me and almost shouted, “This isn’t going where you think it is! Pay attention!” When I could let go of my weird “Pan’s Labyrinth” thing, I caught myself wandering through the house, holding the book so I could read it in one hand, and haphazardly doing chores with the other. I used to do that all the time when I was little, but it doesn’t happen all that often now.
I didn’t feel all that much for most of the characters, but I loved–possibly a tiny SPOILER here–broken, brilliant, valiant Fermín. He tried so hard to overcome what he saw as his weaknesses. He was loyal, he was funny, he was chivalrous. He and Daniel had this whole “Scent of a Woman” thing going on that I loved. Fermin: “The female heart is a labyrinth of subtleties, too challenging for the uncouth mind of the male racketeer. If you really want to possess a woman, you must think like her, and the first thing to do is to win over her soul. The rest, that sweet, soft wrapping that steals away your senses and your virtue, is a bonus.” What woman could resist a man like that? Not this one!
The book was pretty dark overall, but there were a few scenes where small kindnesses made all the difference to someone that just broke my heart. Whether it was the wise-cracking beggar breaking down in tears after being given a bath, or the shy boy who asks Daniel to be his friend. Just looking back through those scenes makes my heart ache for the people who just need something so small.
The translator did a great job. A few phrases here and there rang a little false when I read them, but mostly I would never have guessed it was a translation.
I found several quotes that I liked:
“Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.”
“The moment you stop to think about whether you love someone, you’ve already stopped loving that person forever.”
“What destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it.”
“Making money isn’t hard in itself… What’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one’s life to.”
Someone “says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that 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, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.”
I did enjoy this, and I think that readers who like that whole Gothic melodrama style will enjoy it also.
Originally reviewed January 22, 2009