Updated: Sep 3
It’s been a long time since the last review. And it was never planned, on the contrary, I have all this planning on which books I’m going to talk about and when and then something unexpected happens and my carefully planned plans become sudden unplanned plans. In June we’d been distance-learning for over two months, summer school-holidays were around the corner and I wanted to talk about a book set in Berkeley that’s been on my mind for exactly a year. But that was not meant to be. Sadly, a world-renown author from Barcelona passed away on the 19th of that month and I felt it was important to change my plans to add him and his books to this reading list, straying from not just my review schedule and my alternating Catalan-English posts, but my initial idea to introduce either Catalan readers to English books set in the Bay Area or US readers to Catalan books that have made it in translation hence building a bridge between these two communities.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón was indeed from Barcelona, but he wrote in Spanish. Some Catalan authors do that, and they even translate themselves into Catalan afterwards. We’re bilingual over there but usually feel more comfortable using one language over the other doing specific things. Zafón’s death brought me memories of the first book I read by him. The Shadow of the Wind has been translated into over 30 languages after its publication in 2001 so chances are you may have already heard about it. It is set in Barcelona right after the Spanish Civil War. It’s a book about books and people who love books. It’s a book about a country devastated by violence; ruled by oppression, by fear; with mistrusting characters, a quality one must have to survive. The Shadow of the Wind takes place in the streets where I grew up, streets that I know so well, and that I still miss living in the Bay Area. It takes place in the times my grandparents were younger than I am now, and that brings it closer. It was not unusual to hear war stories, how my grandfather got wounded, how as a child myself I could still see his scar on his balding head. It was not the “Good Olden Days” and sometimes because of this, stories were not sharable, too much pain, physical and emotional. So, when the elders did talk, we listened closely trying to imagine the unimaginable.
Do not get me wrong, The Shadow of the Wind is not a memoir about the Spanish Civil War. It is a work of fiction set in those post-war times, that’s all. But even in fiction, one can relate. Fear and anguish are all-time international feelings. The setting too, those streets and avenues in Barcelona, those buildings, they still exist, they are still there, so much that there are even literary tours you can join to follow the steps of Daniel Sempere.
The Shadow of the wind, with its grim background and unnerving characters, is a book of adventures that opens up a city full of history. A book about books. A book about readers. It is the first in “The Cemetery quartet”*. The other three novels, all translated into English as well, can be read as standalones or as sequels to The Shadow of the Wind. Either way, they are adventures worth delving into. Something to take us elsewhere (and elsewhen!) now that we are still anchored in the Bay.
And this is it, really, almost three months after his passing, I have finally managed to put a few words together to emphasise his own : «We exist as long as someone remembers us». I can see though, that to forget someone whose work in the history of Spanish publishing comes only in second place after Cervantes Don Quixote will prove difficult.
Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Original title (Spanish): La sombra del viento
Translator: Lucia Graves
Publisher: Penguin Books
Date: 1st February 2005
*The Angel's Game, The Prisoner of Heaven, & The Labyrinth of the Spirits