Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Shadow Of The Wind

Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day – The Shadow of The Wind by Carlos Luis Zafon

            When was the last time you were completely and utterly lost in a book?  A time when you came to the end, closed the cover, and emerged glassy-eyed and waiting to regain your bearings, reluctant to return to the real world.  I think, perhaps, it happens more often in childhood than adulthood.  You remember those summer afternoons being transported to Oz or falling down the rabbit hole or being yanked back to earth from the Land of Mordor only because your mother is calling you to supper, don’t you.  You do if you loved to read as a child.  Every now and again, however, it can happen when you’re old enough to know that magic isn’t real, that it’s all in the flick of the wrist.  But every once in a while you’ll pick up a book, begin to read, and realize – notwithstanding all your years of living - that there are all kinds of magic in which to believe.

            It is the summer of 1945.  Daniel Sempere’s father, the owner of a shop that specializes in antiquarian books, wakes him just before dawn and tells him to get dressed.  “I want to show you something,” he says.  Daniel follows his father through the narrow, hazy lanes of Barcelona until they stop in front of a large door of carved wood, blackened by time and humidity – the entrance to what resembles a crumbling palace.  “Daniel,” his father cautions, “you mustn’t tell anyone what you’re about to see today.” The door is opened by a man whom his father greets with familiarity.  “Good morning, Isaac.  This is my son, Daniel.”   Inside Daniel is stunned by what he sees:  labyrinths of passageways and corridors and halls, crammed from floor to soaring ceiling with bookshelves full of books.  “Welcome to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, Daniel,” his father winks.

            His father explains that they have entered a place of mystery.  That every book within the walls has a soul.  The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read and lived with it and dreamed with it.  “Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”   A book that is forgotten – whether it be from the closing of a bookstore, the disappearance of a library, or simply consigned to oblivion – those who know of and guard this sanctuary make certain it comes here to live, waiting for the day when it will reach a new reader’s hands.

 Daniel’s father explains that according to tradition, the first time someone visits the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, he (or she) must choose a book and adopt it, making sure that it will never disappear and that it will always stay alive.  “It is a very important promise.  For life.”  On this day it was to be Daniel’s turn.

            As he roamed through the galleries of that seemingly boundless universe, his eyes spotted the book that he knew he would chose – or which, more precisely, had chosen him.  The gold letters of the title gleamed from the light peeking in from the glass domed ceiling. 

The Shadow Of The Wind
Julian Carax

            Taking it home with him, Daniel not only gets lost in the book, he becomes curious about its author – whose works, he learns, are being systematically hunted down and destroyed by someone unknown.  In his passion to discover who and why, he begins to unravel an amazing story of mystery, murder, and near madness, with shadowy plots and subplots and with enough ghostly gothic film noir essence, nail biting thrills, dangers lurking with every creaking floorboard, and both the nobility of the human spirit and its evil twin to keep the pages turning furiously.  I promise you, it’s pure literary seduction to which you will gladly succumb.