It begins in 1945, post-Spanish civil war, with the protagonist Daniel Sempere being taken by his father to the Cemetery of Lost Books where is told to choose a book in order to keep it's spirit alive forever.
Daniel chooses a book entitled The Shadow of the Wind by Juian Carax and in doing so he unknowingly and irrevocably ties his own life to Julian's.
I know this seems to be a common refrain in my reviews of late, but I hardly feel capable of doing this book any justice.
Zafon creates these most perfect characters. He goes so deep into their inner most thoughts and intricacies that it is hard to believe that the characters are just that; characters in the story. Not only were the characters so whole, the setting was so vivid that at times I felt as though I was lost in the rambling misty streets of Barcelona with the characters.
Without getting too sappy, I think that The Shadow of the Wind is in some ways a metaphor for the ability that some stories have to touch something inside us so much that the story itself becomes a little part of ourselves.
Despite how much I enjoyed almost every aspect of this book, there were two weaknesses for me. The first is that Zafon sometimes seemed a little pleased with himself, a little too pompous, in the way that he put forward his own social commentary. I am thinking particularly of Fermin's comments on television, where I felt as though I was reading the author's opinion rather than the characters. Fermin predicts that in the future people won't be able to fart for themselves because of the prevalence of television, and that we (people) won't die of the bomb but of banality. This felt to me to be a lot more of the authors opinion rather than the characters.
The second weakness for me was that towards the middle of the book I felt as though it was moving to slowly and I really needed something to happen soon or I would lose interest in the story. Fortunately, as soon as I has that thought, the story really picked up and I was swept away all over again.
Zafon breathes a vividness and life into the his characters and setting in a way that I don't often come across. In his writing you can really sense his passion for the time honoured art of reading, and that passion is catching.