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Carlos Ruiz Zafon - The Shadow of the Wind

(This is a repost from LJ. The following books of Ruiz Zafon have not been as good as this one).

Everything begins in Barcelona in 1945 when the scars of the Spanish Civil War are still evident. Old bookstore owner takes his 10-year-old son Daniel to the Cemetery of the Forgotten Books. Daniel selects a novel The Shadow of the Wind by an unknown author Julian Carax. And thus begins the tale of tragedy, deception and passions.

The story follows Daniel Sempere's life the next decade or so. When he tries to solve the mystery of the author he meets a new ally and an enemy and his life begins to have similarities with the life of the author. At the same time he falls in love with Beatrix Aquilar, the sister of a juvenile would-be-engineer and his best friend Tomás. His childhood crush with the blind Clara Barcelo is almost a sidetrack.

Il Caudillo Franco rules the Spain but the regime is still mainly in the background and the life goes on. Certain police do what they want and those who do not support the regime try to lay low or survive by lies and deception. Zafon also mentions Spanish people unknown to foreigners but they are not related to the story itself.

Carax still has enemies who now begun to follow Daniel. One of them is Francisco Javier Fumero, wartime turncoat and assassin who has become a powerful police officer (with unwilling subordinates who still have to follow orders). And there is a strange, disfigured man who wants to burn all the copies of Carax's books for his own reasons. He uses the name of an evil character from the The Shadow of the Wind.

Daniel finds an unlike ally in Fermin Romero de Torres, irreverent toothless hobo and literally tortured victim of the civil war. But he is more resourceful than he looks and the name he now uses is not the one he was born with. And Fumero becomes their mutual enemy.

Some chapters are composed of stories other characters tell Daniel, either in discussion or in writing, These are not infodumps but reveal the mysteries. And even if Daniel is the observer of the tale, he is not a mere passive bystander with his lives and loves.

Following the rules of melodrama, the protagonist's mother has died before the story begins. Families rarely understand their children and try to mould them to the form they want. People deceive each other for the lowest and the noblest of reasons. Good intentions go awry because the beneficiary does not know the full truth because the transparent façade of respectability must be maintained. And the final confrontation is in the local equivalent of a ruined manor in a middle of snow.

That does not cheapen the story. It kept me in its grips to the end.

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