The Shadow of the Wind is my favourite book to recommend. I have suggested this book to highbrow literary folks when they have asked me for a thriller or a mystery story with literary merit; to the regular thrill-a-minute readers asking for something a little exotic but up to their taste; to the fans of the classics that have asked for modern classics which, say, feel like Dumas; and to the translation junkie who wants to see a different place and a different time.
The story starts in Barcelona in 1945. Barcelona is still in a state of healing and rebuilding after the devastation of the Spanish Civil War. Daniel Sempere is 10 years old, and is grieving for his mother who passed away a few years ago. His father, a bookseller, has a secret. He is one of the few patrons of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books — a secret library in the back-alleys of Barcelona, a shrine of sorts, of books; exceptional, but forgotten and out of print. Patrons of this library are the bibliophiles of Barcelona, who have curated and kept this place alive for ages. New patrons are expected to look around and decide on a book, which they will take, protect and treasure for their lives. The senior Sempere decides to take Daniel to the library.
The book Daniel chances upon is the eponymous The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. The young boy is enthralled by the book, and decides to find more writings by this writer. Looking around the bookshops of Barcelona, he finds references to the writer, but no books. There is someone who has supposedly been buying out all of Carax’s books, and burning them all, a whole warehouse of them in one instance. This shrouded, mysterious figure identifies himself as Laín Coubert. Daniel, having read the book, realises that Laín Coubert is the name of a character in The Shadow of the Wind, a character who is actually revealed to be the Devil.
As he grows older, Daniel continues his wild-goose chase of Carax. Along the way, he finds as his companion the flamboyant Fermin Romero de Torres, his father’s assistant at the bookshop, who was imprisoned as a war criminal during the Civil War. After a while, they come to know about the heartbreaking story of Julián Carax and his doomed love for Penelope. Old loves and old rivalries come to light, as they meet the chief antagonist of this story, Police Inspector Francisco Javier Fumero, the cruelest and most ruthless man in the whole of Barcelona.
This is a special novel, meandering and sprawling and magnificent. It details the history of the Catalan state after the Civil War, yet it is an eventful, hyperactive story of doomed love, a mystery novel and a coming-of-age saga.
Another thing to love about the novel is that it is not afraid to ramble. Sure, it confuses and infuriates, but it never ceases to interest. It’s a hypnotic read. And it’s recommended.
(The writer is a business development executive in Hyderabad)