This is a gorgeous book. I mean that literally—look at that cover! I was browsing in Barnes & Noble one day and happened upon the Z section of Fiction and this book jumped out at me. I just thought the cover was stunning and intriguing. So, I read the back of the book and deemed it even more intriguing.
It's the story of Daniel Sempere, who lost his mother to cholera and has lived alone with his father since. Daniel's father, a bookseller, takes him to a wonderful place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books (I seriously could spend months in a place like that). There, he finds a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. Mesmerized by its story, Daniel sets out to find more of Carax's books. Unfortunately, no one has any—they're all being bought up, stolen, and burned. Of course, this just makes Daniel all the more curious and he goes to great lengths to find out the truth about Julián Carax and why his books are being systematically destroyed.
It's a mystery set in Spain in the 1940s and 1950s and the way Carlos Ruiz Zafón describes places and people and the feeling of the time, you feel as if you really were there. Zafón's way with words is a magical gift. His writing is purely beautiful without being too flowery or over the top. For example, here is the opening of the novel:
I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time. It was the early summer of 1945, and we walked through the streets of a Barcelona trapped beneath ashen skies as dawn poured over Rambla de Santa Mónica in a wreath of liquid copper.Can't you just picture it and feel it? I can! You can tell that Zafón is a great lover of books as well. Take this quote from Daniel's father about the Cemetery of Forgotten Books:
This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though. When a library disappears, or a book shop closes down, when a book is consigned into oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands. In the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here has been somebody's best friend. Now they have only us, Daniel. Do you think you'll be able to keep such a secret?"I apologize for the lengthy quote, but it's just so beautiful. The man clearly loves his books. And it puts into words how I feel about physical books—there is something magical about reading a book: its smell, its feel, turning its pages... e-readers may be very convenient, but I still get a kick out of books.
The mystery of Julián Carax is one that will keep you guessing (as any good mystery book will do). You never know which characters to trust and which clues will lead you in the right direction. Zafón lets you guess some secrets and then completely surprises you with others—ones you never saw coming. It's one of those books that when you finish it, you want to start it all over again because now you know what really happened and you want to see all of the foreshadowing and clues with knowing eyes.
I was reading this book on the bus the other day and a lady a couple people over asked me if I liked it. I told her I loved it! And she said it was one of her favorite books of all time. I can see why. I've never read a mystery told so beautifully and with such interesting and rich characters. I would love to re-learn all of the Spanish I've forgotten and read the book in its original language because I bet that's an even more amazing experience. I will be re-reading this one over and over again for years to come!