The Shadow of the Wind
Joseph-Beth and Davis-Kidd Booksellers Fiction Award
Borders Original Voices Award
NYPL Books to Remember 2004
Book Sense Book of the Year: Honorable Mention
Horror Guild Award: Nominee
Barry Award 2005
The international literary bestsellermore than one million copies sold worldwide
Barcelona, 1945—A great world city lies shrouded in secrets after the war, and a boy mourning the loss of his mother finds solace in his love for an extraordinary book called The Shadow of the Wind, by an author named Julian Carax. When the boy searches for Carax’s other books, it begins to dawn on him, to his horror, that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book the man has ever written. Soon the boy realizes that The Shadow of the Wind is as dangerous to own as it is impossible to forget, for the mystery of its author’s identity holds the key to an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love that someone will go to any lengths to keep secret.
A secret's worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept. My first thought on waking was to tell my best friend about the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Tomás Aguilar was a classmate who devoted his free time and his talent to the invention of wonderfully ingenious contraptions of dubious practicality, like the aerostatic dart or the dynamo spinning top. I pictured us both, equipped with flashlights and compasses, uncovering the mysteries of those bibliographic catacombs. Who better than Tomás to share my secret? Then, remembering my promise, I decided that circumstances advised me to adopt what in detective novels is termed a different modus operandi. At noon I approached my father to quiz him about the book and about Julián Carax-both world famous, I assumed. My plan was to get my hands on his complete works and read them all by the end of the week. To my surprise, I discovered that my father, a natural-born librarian and a walking lexicon of publishers' catalogs and oddities, had never heard of The Shadow of the Wind or Julián Carax. Intrigued, he examined the printing history on the back of the title page for clues.
"It says here that this copy is part of an edition of twenty-five hundred printed in Barcelona by Cabestany Editores, in June 1936."
"Do you know the publishing house?"
"It closed down years ago. But, wait, this is not the original. The first edition came out in November 1935 but was printed in Paris....Published by Galiano & Neuval. Doesn't ring a bell."
"So is this a translation?"
"It doesn't say so. From what I can see, the text must be the original one."
"A book in Spanish, first published in France?"
"It's not that unusual, not in times like these," my father put in. "Perhaps Barceló can help us...."
Gustavo Barceló was an old colleague of my father's who now owned a cavernous establishment on Calle Fernando with a commanding position in the city's secondhand-book trade. Perpetually affixed to his mouth was an unlit pipe that impregnated his person with the aroma of a Persian market. He liked to describe himself as the last romantic, and he was not above claiming that a remote line in his ancestry led directly to Lord Byron himself. As if to prove this connection, Barceló fashioned his wardrobe in the style of a nineteenth-century dandy. His casual attire consisted of a cravat, white patent leather shoes, and a plain glass monocle that, according to malicious gossip, he did not remove even in the intimacy of the lavatory. Flights of fancy aside, the most significant relative in his lineage was his begetter, an industrialist who had become fabulously wealthy by questionable means at the end of the nineteenth century. According to my father, Gustavo Barceló was, technically speaking, loaded, and his palatial bookshop was more of a passion than a business. He loved books unreservedly, and-although he denied this categorically-if someone stepped into his bookshop and fell in love with a tome he could not afford, Barceló would lower its price, or even give it away, if he felt that the buyer was a serious reader and not an accidental browser. Barceló also boasted an elephantine memory allied to a pedantry that matched his demeanor and the sonority of his voice. If anyone knew about odd books, it was he. That afternoon, after closing the shop, my father suggested that we stroll along to the Els Quatre Gats, a café on Calle Montsió, where Barceló and his bibliophile knights of the round table gathered to discuss the finer points of decadent poets, dead languages, and neglected, moth-ridden masterpieces.
Els Quatre Gats was just a five-minute walk from our house and one of my favorite haunts. My parents had met there in 1932, and I attributed my one-way ticket into this world in part to the old café's charms. Stone dragons guarded a lamplit façade anchored in shadows. Inside, voices seemed shaded by the echoes of other times. Accountants, dreamers, and would-be geniuses shared tables with the specters of Pablo Picasso, Isaac Albéniz, Federico García Lorca, and Salvador Dalí. There any poor devil could pass for a historical figure for the price of a small coffee.
"Sempere, old man," proclaimed Barceló when he saw my father come in. "Hail the prodigal son. To what do we owe the honor?"
"You owe the honor to my son, Daniel, Don Gustavo. He's just made a discovery."
"Well, then, pray come and sit down with us, for we must celebrate this ephemeral event," he announced.
"Ephemeral?" I whispered to my father.
"Barceló can express himself only in frilly words," my father whispered back. "Don't say anything, or he'll get carried away."
The lesser members of the coterie made room for us in their circle, and Barceló, who enjoyed flaunting his generosity in public, insisted on treating us.
"How old is the lad?" inquired Barceló, inspecting me out of the corner of his eye.
"Almost eleven," I announced.
Barceló flashed a sly smile.
"In other words, ten. Don't add on any years, you rascal. Life will see to that without your help."
A few of his chums grumbled in assent. Barceló signaled to a waiter of such remarkable decrepitude that he looked as if he should be declared a national landmark.
"A cognac for my friend Sempere, from the good bottle, and a cinnamon milk shake for the young one-he's a growing boy. Ah, and bring us some bits of ham, but spare us the delicacies you brought us earlier, eh? If we fancy rubber, we'll call for Pirelli tires."
The waiter nodded and left, dragging his feet.
"I hate to bring up the subject," Barceló said, "but how can there be jobs? In this country nobody ever retires, not even after they're dead. Just look at El Cid. I tell you, we're a hopeless case."
He sucked on his cold pipe, eyes already scanning the book in my hands. Despite his pretentious façade and his verbosity, Barceló could smell good prey the way a wolf scents blood.
"Let me see," he said, feigning disinterest. "What have we here?"
I glanced at my father. He nodded approvingly. Without further ado, I handed Barceló the book. The bookseller greeted it with expert hands. His pianist's fingers quickly explored its texture, consistency, and condition. He located the page with the publication and printer's notices and studied it with Holmesian flair. The rest watched in silence, as if awaiting a miracle, or permission to breathe again.
"Carax. Interesting," he murmured in an inscrutable tone.
I held out my hand to recover the book. Barceló arched his eyebrows but gave it back with an icy smile.
"Where did you find it, young man?"
"It's a secret," I answered, knowing that my father would be smiling to himself. Barceló frowned and looked at my father. "Sempere, my dearest old friend, because it's you and because of the high esteem I hold you in, and in honor of the long and profound friendship that unites us like brothers, let's call it at forty duros, end of story."
"You'll have to discuss that with my son," my father pointed out. "The book is his."
Barceló granted me a wolfish smile. "What do you say, laddie? Forty duros isn't bad for a first sale....Sempere, this boy of yours will make a name for himself in the business."
The choir cheered his remark. Barceló gave me a triumphant look and pulled out his leather wallet. He ceremoniously counted out two hundred pesetas, which in those days was quite a fortune, and handed them to me. But I just shook my head. Barceló scowled.
"Dear boy, greed is most certainly an ugly, not to say mortal, sin. Be sensible. Call me crazy, but I'll raise that to sixty duros, and you can open a retirement fund. At your age you must start thinking of the future."
I shook my head again. Barceló shot a poisonous look at my father through his monocle.
"Don't look at me," said my father. "I'm only here as an escort."
Barceló sighed and peered at me closely.
"Let's see, junior. What is it you want?"
"What I want is to know who Julián Carax is and where I can find other books he's written."
Barceló chuckled and pocketed his wallet, reconsidering his adversary.
"Goodness, a scholar. Sempere, what do you feed the boy?"
The bookseller leaned toward me confidentially, and for a second I thought he betrayed a look of respect that had not been there a few moments earlier.
"We'll make a deal," he said. "Tomorrow, Sunday, in the afternoon, drop by the Ateneo library and ask for me. Bring your precious find with you so that I can examine it properly, and I'll tell you what I know about Julián Carax. Quid pro quo."
"Quid pro what?"
"Latin, young man. There's no such thing as dead languages, only dormant minds. Paraphrasing, it means that you can't get something for nothing, but since I like you, I'm going to do you a favor."
The man's oratory could kill flies in midair, but I suspected that if I wanted to find out anything about Julián Carax, I'd be well advised to stay on good terms with him. I proffered my most saintly smile in delight at his Latin outpourings.
"Remember, tomorrow, in the Ateneo," pronounced the bookseller. "But bring the book, or there's no deal."
Our conversation slowly merged into the murmuring of the other members of the coffee set. The discussion turned to some documents found in the basement of El Escorial that hinted at the possibility that Don Miguel de Cervantes had in fact been the nom de plume of a large, hairy lady of letters from Toledo. Barceló seemed distracted, not tempted to claim a share in the debate. He remained quiet, observing me from his fake monocle with a masked smile. Or perhaps he was only looking at the book I held in my hands.If you thought the true gothic novel died with the nineteenth century, this will change your mind... This is one gorgeous read. (Stephen King)
…rush right out to the nearest bookstore and pick up The Shadow of the Wind. (Michael Dirda, The Washington Post)
Wondrous... masterful... The Shadow of the Wind is ultimately a love letter to literature… (Entertainment Weekly, A, Editor’s Choice)
‘Gabriel García Márquez meets Umberto Eco meets Jorge Luis Borges’ for a sprawling magic show. (Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review)
The Shadow of the Wind takes place in the atmospheric, and very palpable, setting of Barcelona—and in fact, this city becomes one of the novel’s more prominent characters. Why did you choose to locate your story here?
Barcelona is a complex virtual world of Dickensian lights and shadows, beautiful and mysterious. I wanted to bring its history, its soul, alive in this story in a very cinematic, sensorial way. A poet once called Barcelona “the great enchantress.” I was born, raised, and have lived most of my life here and wanted to use my hometown not merely as a backdrop, but as an organic character—to convey its romantic and seductive, yet sometimes dark and dangerous allure.
You chose post-Spanish civil war Barcelona rather than the contemporary city. Why is that?
The first half of the 20th century was a time of tremendous dramatic and historic significance, not just for Barcelona or Spain, but the entire world. I wanted to use this rich, complex historical canvas to explore themes and issues that are as, or even more, relevant today than they were then.
You’re a screenwriter as well as a novelist. How has that influenced your fiction?
Writing screenplays forces you to consider elements of story structure, and a variety of narrative devices, that can be adapted to the more complex demands of a novel. I believe the modern novel should try to capture the scope and ambition of the 19th century classics while making use of the narrative tools the 20th century has left us, from the avant-garde to the images and sounds of the golden screen.
I also think that this book, being a novel of novels and a book within a book, has the reader bring his own literary and cultural references—from classic Greek tragedy to genre fiction to the classics to the language and images of modern advertising or film—and project them into the story. All of these things come together within the texture of the novel and, I hope, will allow each reader discover something of himself in the stories within stories—their hopes and fears, their own humanity mirrored. I think the reader will enjoy the ride, the images, the language, the humor, the suspense, the sense of adventure, and above all the thrill of pure storytelling.
Where did the ideas for The Cemetery of Forgotten Books come from?
This formidable labyrinth of books was the first image that came to my mind for this novel, the first brick in the building. It’s a metaphor of all the vital and important things, ideas, and people we tend to forget or neglect in favor of the banal, empty, and often self-destructive elements in our lives.
Why books? I’m a voracious reader, and I like to explore all sorts of writing without paying attention to labels, conventions, or critical fads. I learn a little from everything I read, from genre fiction to the classics, though if I had to choose a particular pantheon I’d say the great 19th century giants have yet to be beat or even remotely approached. Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Balzac, Hugo, Hardy, Dumas, Flaubert & Co. Dream Team indeed. The Shadow of the Wind uses elements of the mystery novel, the historical thriller, the grammar of film and image storytelling, metafiction, romance saga, gothic literature, the comedy of manners, and many other narrative devices to create a new genre that goes beyond the sum of its parts. My aim was to allow the reader to experience this world and these characters in a sensory, cinematic, tactile way.
This book has become quite an international phenomenon—still at the top of Spain’s bestseller list, where it was first published in Spanish, and #1 in Germany. Clearly it crosses cultural and national boundaries. Who do you see as the ideal reader for this novel?
I hope this is reading for those who love, really love, to read. I drew on the Dickensian model of creating a complex world populated by intriguing places, peculiar creatures, and infinite details at work. A good novel begins with a universe that should feel to the reader as real and fascinating, if not more so, than the one he inhabited before he picked up the book. This is a novel for those who love to lose themselves in that kind of universe.
Every translation needs some fine-tuning to adapt certain aspects of the context and double meanings. However, I tend to think readers, and lovers of books in general, have a secret nation of their own, and their understanding and intellectual curiosity goes beyond languages, passports, or even the fine points of slightly different cultural and historical contexts.
What do you hope readers of The Shadow of the Wind will take away from your book? I think novels should be an experience. I want my readers to be thrilled, to be moved, to laugh, to cry, and to be terrified. To be stimulated. I want them to have the time of their lives and at the same time to look at the world, and themselves, in a different light. Many readers have told me that The Shadow of the Wind made them fall in love again with books and reading. If my book accomplishes that, I’ll be more than happy.
What can we hope to see from you next?
I’m working on a new novel that picks up the mix of genres and techniques of The Shadow of the Wind and tries to take it to the next level. It is the second in a cycle of four books that I’ve planned in this “gothic Barcelona quartet,” a sort of narrative kaleidoscope of Victorian sagas, intrigue, romance, comedy, mystery and “newly” fashioned old fashioned good storytelling.
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