Now, I’m not normally that interested in the “coming-of-age” novel, but The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon–with a huge, stove-pipe-sized tip o’ the hat to translator Lucia Graves, without whose effort, sad monolinguals like myself would be bereft of much beauty–mixes up a delicious stew of 1950s fascist Spain; bibliophilia; multi-generationally destructive love triangles; fantastically loveable (and loving) supporting characters; and, eventually, tacked on almost as an afterthought, “coming-of-age”. (I’d leave it off if I could, but it is a pretty central element.)
The mystery revolves around a book discovered in the “Cemetary of Forgotten Books”, a labyrinthine warehouse of lost and discarded books, by ten year old Daniel. A book which opens the boy’s eyes to the magic of the written word. A book whose author has died under mysterious circumstances and copies of whose books are being methodically destroyed.
A more subtle theme, perhaps, is the struggle of children to make their way in a world which has been structured and stifled by the generations which have come before. Again and again, Daniel finds himself powerless in the face of adults and their secrets. Just as his father will never speak of his wife’s death, so, too, none of the adults in the book will speak openly of the Spanish Civil War. Throughout the book, a story which spans 12 years or so, Daniel wanders darkling through a maze of secrest which he does not understand. The only thing Daniel has going for him is a youthful persistence and (naive?) good-faith in human nature.
I think I could probably write a lot about the way children are forced to make their way in (the often) crippled reality that their parents’ generation (and beyond) has created for them, but my brain’s beginning to hurt thinking about all of this… Maybe I’ll write more about this later.