Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Genre: Historical Fiction
Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love. –Goodreads
Content Warnings: Homophobia, sexual assault, rape, physical abuse, domestic abuse, graphic mentions of torture, graphic mentions of abuse, death, graphic depictions of murder, mentions of war.
*There aren’t any specific spoilers in this review, but if you want to go into the book without any idea of what occurs, maybe skip to the final thoughts!*
I just finished the book Shadow of the Wind for my family book club and I have a lot of thoughts. This historical fiction novel has a lot going for it: mystery, atmosphere, beautiful writing. Yet all of it’s strengths become clichéd and repetitive halfway through. The fact that I took an entire month to read it to keep pace with my book club probably lent to the fact that I wasn’t as quickly bothered by its many flaws as if I were to read it at my regular pace.
It’s an interesting, mysterious, magical book and I understand why so many people love it, but for me the flaws hugely outweighed any positives.
What I Liked
The atmosphere: Shadow of the Wind takes place in Barcelona during two different timelines. As the story unfolds, we learn more about the mysterious author Julian Carax, whose books are being destroyed by an unknown specter, and Daniel, the boy trying to uncover the mystery. I really liked reading about the misty, gloomy streets of Barcelona, which is one of the main reasons I enjoyed the book so much at first. It’s honestly the only thing that I truly enjoyed about the book.
What I Felt Conflicted About
The writing: Carlos Ruiz Zafón, has a very descriptive style of writing. This lent greatly to the atmosphere that is created, but halfway through the book I found myself rolling my eyes at the endlessly descriptive passages. He would insert so many completely unnecessary notes about characters, how they looked, and things that had happened in their lives that didn’t add much to the actual purpose of the story.
On top of that, most of the characters were obvious caricatures, especially the one-dimensional women (see below). Halfway through, I decided that I had to finish it ASAP instead of continuing to have it lingering on my bookshelf for the rest of the month while I slowly read it’s meandering prose.
What I Didn’t Like
The way the author writes women: This is one of my biggest issues with the book. The main character, Daniel, basically falls in love with every beautiful-to-him woman that he meets. He places almost every woman in the book on a pedestal and then witnesses their downfalls as if they occurred only because of their proximity to him and how he felt about them.
The endless descriptions of how a certain woman was a femme fatale or how another much older woman who rejects Daniel basically has no right to get involved with more age-appropriate men was exhausting. He was nothing to them, except that the author wrote them to be completely obsessed with Daniel or some other male character. Truly a fuckboy I have no interest in, which made the book such a slog since he was the main character.
If a woman wasn’t beautiful, then she was haggard and had no sexual value, which is of course is the only value a woman has in this book. The one “unattractive” character that has a big part in the story is described as not being able to have children and this is what happens to her: “Her breasts withered until they were but scraps of skin, her hips were like the hips of a boy, and her flesh, hard and angular, didn’t even catch the eye of Don Ricardo Aldaya…” Uuuum okay sir. Because how desirable she is and her ability to bear children is the only value a woman has.
The plethora of violence against women: This is kind of similar to the previous point. Basically, almost every woman in this book has some terrible story in which she is attacked, assaulted, and/or abused by a male. I understand this being a plot point for a book, except that after the third and fourth time reading a backstory of a woman getting abused in detail, it began to seem gratuitous. We get it. Everyone in this story must be miserable and to the author, this means that almost all the women must be abused. PLEASE. Most of the men committing these horrendous acts also get written off as having a reason for doing so and having some sort of redemption arc. No thank you. I don’t care. Next.
There was violence against many of the men, but the imbalance in power was not as all-imposing as it was with the women and there was at least some purpose (no matter how flimsy). In one case though, it was immensely gratuitous how the abuse of a man was so graphically described and the almost comedic tone of the assault and the character’s identity was horrendous (I’m leaving who this happens to out for spoiler-free purposes). The women and this man were written as doing something to “deserve” the violence they experience and they fall by the wayside if they aren’t as equally obsessed with Daniel as he is with them.
The fact that this is a historical fiction taking place in a violent time and place doesn’t excuse this issue in my opinion. It’s still way too much paired with the obvious sexism seeping out of the writing.
How the mystery is solved: The entire purpose of this book is to figure out what happened to Julian Carax and who is burning all of his books. Daniel’s searching goes on for literal years and in the end all we get is a conveniently acquired info dump spurred by more violence against a woman. All of this buildup for an info dump conclusion. Okay okay…
How alike the two storylines are: Too alike. Too conveniently alike. That is all.
That twist: Yikes. I truly threw my book to the floor. No comment.
Daniel’s relationship with his dad: Not as so endlessly described as his other relationships, which was disappointing considering how much effort was put into describing other characters with smaller roles in the story.
Even though I felt compelled enough by the atmosphere of the book to keep flipping the pages, I couldn’t look past all of the flaws. I had nightmares that I’m pretty sure were caused by this book and I hope to never experience that again. I won’t be reading the other two books in the series, that’s for sure!
I can really understand why people like this book so much, but for me it’s gonna be a no. I wouldn’t recommend not reading it if the synopsis sounds interesting to you since the author truly sucks you into the world of the book, but be aware of the content warnings! No matter the flaws, I will say that it is an interesting and atmospheric read.