The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

A really unique book, The Shadow of the Wind is a wonderfully complex novel that is simultaneously mysterious, funny, romantic, thrilling, political and suspenseful.  Set in Barcelona in 1945, the main story is about Daniel, a young man whose book-dealer father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where he finds a mysterious book entitled “The Shadow of the Wind” by Julian Carax.  Daniel soon finds himself immersed in the book and the author’s own story, especially when he discovers that a strange figure has been systematically tracking down and destroying copies of all works by Carax.  Daniel is determined to protect his own copy and discover who the strange figure is and why the books are being destroyed.

Meanwhile, Daniel’s own life is becoming a drama of its own.  Multiple characters enter the story, some in relation to Carax, others not, but each has his or her own history to be told as Daniel encounters them, resulting in a novel that is deliciously super-saturated with plot (including surprises and shocking revelations) and a fantastic collection of characters (evil villains, REALLY evil villains, tragic heroes, comic heroes, scapegoats and madmen).

The most omnipresent character in the novel was the city of Barcelona itself.  The author specifically described areas of the city where the action took place and in the back of the trade paperback version there is a walking tour of the city, pinpointing locations of places mentioned in the story.  So close to the end of the Spanish Civil War, the city had a very distinct personality.  The mood was unsure and pessimistic, and the setting very gothic, ensorcelled in Spanish mysticism.

The writing in this novel is some of the most enjoyably lyrical I have read.  The author shows a real passion and enjoyment of language that he shares with the reader.  The book is a translation from the original Spanish novel and I think the translation must be excellent, since the writing shines, and the book is rich with both wit and humor.

Published in: on August 22, 2010 at 6:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first novel in the Millenium Trilogy written by Stieg Larsson, published after his death in 2004.  Larsson was a Swedish journalist, photographer and political activist.  His fiction writing was mostly a hobby done after he got home from work in the evenings.  It appears that originally Larsson intended for the series to contain ten books and along with the three completed manuscripts found, there was also an unfinished fourth manuscript as well as synopses for the fifth and sixth books.  The books were immediate successes in Sweden and after the first was translated, he was posthumously named International Author of the Year in 2008.

I don’t read a lot of murder mysteries but this one was recommended to me and I really enjoyed it.  It took a day or two to get into it, but after the first couple chapters I was hooked and couldn’t put it down.  The whodunnit is essentially a “closed room” murder mystery, meaning that all the people who may have participated in the crime were contained within an area resulting in a definite list of suspects.  In the book the murder took place on an island while the only bridge to and from the island was closed off because of a traffic accident.  The aging patriarch of the wealthy Vanger family that inhabits the island becomes obsessed with the disappearance of his teenage cousin.  He is convinced she was murdered by someone on the island, possibly a family member, on that day in 1966 and that the murderer has been tormenting him for the past 35 years by sending him a pressed, framed flower every year on his birthday.  Vanger hires a journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, to help him try to put the pieces together.  But Blomkvist has his own problems.  He has recently been convicted of libel and is facing public humiliation and a jail sentence.  Lisbeth Salander, a reclusive punk computer hacker prodigy with a personal vendetta also finds her way onto the case and together they uncover secrets and corruption decades old.

The novel is exceptionally good because the clues and details are meticulously arranged so that the reader can theorize along with the investigators.  The suspects are all complex characters who have been intricately developed and woven into the story.  The solution to the puzzle is neither glaringly obvious nor too far-fetched.  It was extremely well-written and I’m looking forward to reading the other two books in the trilogy.  The second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire is currently available and the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest has been translated into English and is due to be released in the U.S. in May.  Kudos to the translator, Reg Keeland, too.  Other than the tongue-twister names of Swedish towns and streets the translation was really smooth.

Published in: on April 25, 2010 at 6:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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