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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This is the first book in Ruiz Zafón's Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, which I recently re-read in preparation for the third.  Like The Angel's Game, this is Gothic in tone, but more romantic tragedy than tragic horror.  The protagonist, David, is the son of a character in the second book, and on his first expedition to the Cemetery he discovers the book The Shadow of the Wind (see what Ruiz Zafón did there?).  When he tries to find other books by the author, he discovers not only that very little is known about him, but also that someone has been systematically destroying his books.

As I've written before, Ruiz Zafón excels at creating atmosphere, and this is no exception.  Moreover, the eventual solution to the central mystery is satisfying, melodramatic (in a good way), and plausible (an underrated quality in this genre).  My only quibble with this book, and the second, is the female characters, almost all of whom are weak in one way or another -- either dominated by their worst qualities, or powerless in the face of a dangerous or inappropriate passion.  Some of this is attributable to the setting.  Even today, there is a surprising amount of sexism in Spain, and Ruiz Zafón is sensitive to the lack of power and agency most women had at the turn of the century.  These women are at the mercy of their fathers, brothers, and husbands, and have little to do except get married and have children.  Still, it would have been nice to see a woman find a way to rise above her circumstances, or find some sense of purpose in them, or even demonstrate dignity in the face of them. (There is one notable exception, but she suffers the fate of many idealized women -- tragic early death from illness.)

On to the third volume!

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