Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Forgotten Books are Dangerous

Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Book: The Shadow of the Wind
Language: Translated from Spanish
Publisher: Penguin, 2005

My family is full of readers, and this past Christmas, my mother-in-law insisted I read a book she'd brought on her trip from Canada to Australia, which had been given to her by her sister in America. So this is a well-travelled book, with two satisfied readers already - and it's been on the New York Times bestseller list.

If you like gothic romance, Barcelona, dark family secrets, power struggles, bookshops and books about books, this is for you. It is overpowering and at times over the top, but its whole is masterful.

Even through the translation, Zafon's words are gorgeous. A poor translation - or a poor synopsis - would have made this novel read like a Dan Brown thriller, but instead the story builds in suspense and is full to bursting of gothic-novel-worthy settings, plot twists, violence and heartache. Above all, though, this is a "love letter to literature" (Entertainment Weekly) and to the booksellers and readers who seek out precious volumes and keep them on their shelves and in their hearts.

The novel follows Daniel Sempere, an antiquarian book dealer's son, from childhood to tortured adulthood. His father entrusts him with a great secret - the location of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books - and charges him to choose a single volume and keep it safe for the remainder of his life.

"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 bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to 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 they will reach a new reader's hands." p. 6

When Daniel discovers that his copy of The Shadow of the Wind is the last in existence, he is mystified, and devotes his life to finding out more about its author and its publication history. But it is no accident that the author's entire canon has been destroyed, and soon Daniel is too close to the truth...

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