BY GERALDINE BULAON-DUCUSIN
The exciting thing about rummaging to secondhand book stores is that you don’t know what’s going to turn up. There’s nothing in particular what you’re looking for. You’re just checking out, browsing the cover, inside and back reviews and the opening lines. Then you get hooked enough to purchase. That’s what happened to Daniel, the main guy of the story.
Such was my experience when I chanced upon The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon sometime in June 2012. The reviews convinced me that it’s worthy of my PhP 50. I bought it and it stayed there in the shelf, until August 13, 2016, when an online book store Bookends Online flashed the second book by the same author. I looked up the first book again and ended its hibernation from my shelf and read it for four nights in a row.
The Shadow is a historical gothic told by a 10-year-old boy until he becomes a young man. It’s a book about a book set in Spain after the Second World War. What got me going till wee hours of the night was the chase, plus the bits of wisdom and lots of wit from interesting characters of different age and gender. There’s a bum, there’s a gay intellectual, a recluse book seller, and others.
Daniel, the narrator is a sensitive and smart son of a widower bookseller. The chase started with a book he found at the Cemetery of Forgotten Books written by Julian Carax, a Spanish author who’s not as commercially successful as his contemporaries, but whose books increased in market value as it has mysteriously disappeared in circulation. The book seemed to have a life of its own.
From the adults who’ve read or heard of Carax says that the writer never made it to his wedding day as he died on the same day he was about to wed to a rich old woman. The search was who’s burning the books of Carax, all copies worldwide. Why the need to erase Carax and his works and what is the conspiracy if there is one.
As Daniel grows up and went about his own life’s challenges, he encountered people who were privileged enough to come across the legendary Carax in their own lifetime. There’s a priest, an old governess, a publishing secretary, and some others who’ve been a part of Carax’s youth. Through them, he came to know about the mystery man whose writing has affected his life and imagination.
One of my favorite lines in the book is this: “Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”
Somehow I found that to be true. And that’s probably one of the reasons why despite the availability and convenience of digital books, the printed versions will not go away.
Julian Carax is an enigma. The book, The Shadow of the Wind, was first printed in 1935, nearly the same year when Daniel was born. There’s a lot of parallelism between the life of Daniel and Carax: both have interesting relationships with their fathers, both lost their mothers in different ways, both fell in love in their teens, both had childhood best friends, and both were engrossed in books.
There are many characters in the book. Reading it and trying to uncover what really happened to Carax, meeting past and present people who played a role in his and Daniel’s life make the story so much more interesting.
When a wealthy man, uncle of Clara, Daniel’s first love, got wind that Daniel has a copy of the book, he tried to buy the book from him, but he refused the offer. Later, another stranger, Lain Coubert, namesake of the devil in Carax’s book, with a flame scarred face tried to also buy the book from him, to burn it. He also declined. And that earned him those buyers’ respect.
While Daniel is following a trail, the reader follows how his life would be the same or would differ from the one he’s chasing.
The enigmatic Carax is one who is both loved and hated, but mostly loved. And this is something that common people can relate to, either we ourselves are hated or loved or we love or hate someone. People, by nature, hate others whom they wish to be themselves. There’s an abused child who failed in killing Carax when they’re younger that he spent his entire life tracking down Carax. His hatred fueled his desire to personally take Carax’s life in his own hands.
My initial impression of this novel was that of being an action-packed mystery, but that was not just what it is about. The Shadow showed subtly the many facets of love and human relationships. Carax’s father may seem to hate him so much, that he was depicted as an abusive and unlovable father, and in the end, he showed that he actually loved his son, though in ways he only knows how.
Nuria, the publisher’s secretary who’ve come to know Carax , and her father also loved each other though that was not initially obvious. Miguel’s love for Carax as his friend is a curiosity, for he eventually also fell in love with Nuria, the woman who so loved Carax.
What one can also glean from the story was how reading and writing are passions that some people really fought hard to do and to keep. Miguel Moliner had strong faith that Carax should really write, that he even spent nearly his entire inheritance in fighting for that cause that he believes in.
Moliner’s mantra is this: “Making money isn’t hard in itself. What’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one’s life to.”
Even when Carax moved from Spain from France, Moliner still financed the publishing of his friend’s books.
Reading along, I couldn’t help but envy Nuria for having the chance to meet Carax and live with him for a week. Miguel’s faithfulness was admirable. I was convinced that what he had for Carax was true love, if ever there was such a thing – a love of a friend to a friend that knows no boundaries. Yet, he also loved Nuria.
Daniel has a friend, Fermin, a homeless guy who rescued him when he was beaten black and blue by the lover of his first childhood crush, Clara. Fermin proclaimed himself a spy during the war. There’s one person which he thought was the devil himself, Fumero. The police who tortured him. It so happened that Fumero was the same child in Carax’ school days who happened to be abused by his mother.
Fermin was that one character who carried his wit effortlessly like one carries a wristwatch, always there, in most hours of the day. One of his lines was, “The only use for military service is that it reveals the number of morons in the population. And that can be discovered in the first two weeks; there’s no need for two years. Army, Marriage, the Church, and banking: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
Other good lines from the book include: “There are no second chances in life, except to feel remorse” and ”Books are mirror: You only see in them what you already have inside you.”
After reading The Shadow, I was looking forward to reading the other work by Zafon. The book let me recapture my own childhood and at the same time reflect on my adult life – how life’s been spent and try to save whatever is there that’s worth saving.
September 2016 Health and Lifestyle