“The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which was translated by Lucia Graves.
First, a quick description of the book, thanks to Amazon.Com and Publishers Weekly.
The time is the 1950s; the place, Barcelona. Daniel Sempere, the son of a widowed bookstore owner, is 10 when he discovers a novel, “The Shadow of the Wind”, by Julián Carax. The novel is rare, the author obscure, and rumors tell of a horribly disfigured man who has been burning every copy he can find of Carax’s novels. The man calls himself Laín Coubert - the name of the devil in one of Carax’s novels. As he grows up, Daniel’s fascination with the mysterious Carax links him to a blind femme fatale with a “porcelain gaze,” Clara Barceló; another fan, a leftist jack-of-all-trades, Fermín Romero de Torres; his best friend’s sister, the delectable Beatriz Aguilar; and, as he begins investigating the life and death of Carax, a cast of characters with secrets to hide. Officially, Carax’s dead body was dumped in an alley in 1936. But discrepancies in this story surface. Meanwhile, Daniel and Fermín are being harried by a sadistic policeman, Carax’s childhood friend. As Daniel’s quest continues, frightening parallels between his own life and Carax’s begin to emerge.
From what I gather, this is the first book of Ruiz Zafón’s that was translated into English. It is hard to find any information on him in English (even though he now lives in Los Angeles). As for the translator Lucia Graves, she’s a veteran when it comes to book translations. And from what I have found of her work, she usually translates from English to Spanish. So she must have a good hold on Spanish. She also would seem to have a good pedigree, being the daughter of author Robert Graves.
All of that leads me to wonder just how much is truly the author and how much is the translation. Maybe it is too much to wonder for such a book. It is not a translation of a classic piece of literature after all. But I found myself enjoying the prose. From a quick review I read, it appears that Graves did well by the author, capturing the style of his writing. Of course that is just one person’s opinion.
The biggest thing for me though was the story. I really enjoyed it. I was hooked after 26 pages, though it did slow down a bit in the middle. I was engaged by the mystery of what was going on and the main characters. The relationship between Daniel, his father, and Fermín were well explored. There was a lot of background into Carax, his friends, and his enemies from his early days, too. Both that, and Daniel’s story tracking this all down really captured my interest.
I have read a discussion thread at a book forum and from what I gather, I was about the only that didn’t see what was coming. Or at least not as soon as everyone else did. Though we all agree that it was a very entertaining read, which is probably more important. The “what was coming” was the revealing of who Laín Coubert was. What struck me as interesting was that at one point Daniel mentions who he thinks he is, and from other parts being revealed made me believe that his deduction was true. Turned out that he was wrong.
Two things that bothered me are tied to a trick that Ruiz Zafón pulled. The last two sentences of chapter 35 are a good bit of foreshadowing and totally shocked me. With so many pages left to read, I wanted to feverishly continue to find out how it happens, this outcome he mentions in those two lines. But first you have to read through about 60 pages (if not more) of a letter one character writes to Daniel. Though it prolongs the agony to find out what happens, it is all very, very interesting and ties up a lot of points. Lets you into other secrets. Then when you get to that moment, it happens, and then it doesn’t. It was disappointing in a small way, but couldn’t really ruin the book as a whole. I was already taken in at that point.
It is a really good story and entertaining read. Good for mystery type readers, as well as those that just enjoy a good story.