SHADOWS OF MYSTERY
I read a couple of positive reviews about Zafon’s book Angel Games on many blogs, and when my friend raved about this book to me, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m so glad I did, because this is one hell of a book; I’d definitely count it among my Top 10 reads of the year.
Ten-year old Daniel Sempere’s father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Barcelona, an immense library which probably contains every book published. Daniel is allowed to choose one book to keep, and he chooses Shadow of the Wind, by an obscure author, Julian Carax. Daniel is drawn by the book and its mysterious author, when he learns that some stranger has been seeking out all books of this author and burning them; a faceless fiend who has taken the name of the devil in Carax’s novel. Daniel digs into the past of this author who has gripped his imagination, but each revelation brings more questions than answers.
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.
If anybody had told me that this was a book about a book, I might have been more energetic in my efforts to track it down. I read this book in fits and starts because of a hectic schedule, but that gave time for the story to sink in. The translator, Lucia Graves, has done a fantastic job; there was no awkwardness in language I have seen with some translations. The characters are very well-constructed, and I especially loved Fermin, the beggar that Daniel brings home, who becomes his ally in the Carax search. The writing is beautiful and evocative, and conjures up the image of Barcelona as a city of shadows, a city steeped in twilight, so to say. It’s a Gothic novel steeped deeply in history, a tale of Daniel’s obsession with a stranger whose life starts to mirror his own.
I was totally drawn into Daniel’s search and totally entranced by the setting of the story. The book has an eerie mysterious feel to it, and I got goosebumps at quite a few places. There are a lot of threads, stories within stories, some of which are left untied. Others are tangled up, leading to plot twists that kept me to the edge of my seat. Every turn the story takes is a revelation that comes crashing down on you, from Fumero’s origins to Carax’s and Penelope’s relationship. Zafon writes to an intelligent reader, one who doesn’t need the whole story spoon-fed to him, one who is capable of filling in the blanks. This liberty to the reader to give wings to his/her imagination is one characteristic of the book that I loved. To quote Winston Churchill, the story is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. The search for the key makes the book a great read. Definitely a book on my reread list.