Spanish gothic thriller surprisingly enjoyable

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The yearly “One Book, One Community” program was created as a way to facilitate discussion between NMU and Marquette county readers.

This year’s selection, and first translated novel, “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, is sure to invite a vast array of discussion.

Zafón, who is a bestseller in his native Spain, has spun a tale that spans decades and mixes many genres together to form a story that intrigues those who might not normally favor a mystery. At its heart “Shadow” is a gothic thriller with the spirit of the genre’s 19th century roots and the appeal of contemporary fiction.

Normally, I’d shy away from a translated novel-afraid I wouldn’t be able to understand some concepts because I was not a native reader. “Shadow” still has the flavor of Spain, but foreign readers can relate and characters aren’t lost in translation.

Taking place in 1950’s Barcelona, “Shadow” is told through the viewpoint of Daniel Sempere, a widowed bookstore owner’s son. At age 10 he finds a mysterious novel and soon becomes obsessed with the book’s author Julián Carax. He begins to search for the author’s other works and learns that someone calling himself Laín Coubert-named after a character in Carax’s last novel-is searching for every copy of Carax’s works and burning them. As the years pass, Daniel begins to investigate Carax’s past which leads him into direct conflict with Coubert and a deranged police inspector.

The book starts slow, almost at a trickling pace, covering the history of Daniel and his father as well as offering readers a chance to become accustomed to the setting.

One could argue that “Shadow” doesn’t even begin until the appearance of Coubert. The story builds momentum via several plot twists and the last 100 pages make slogging through the slower passages worth it.

It’s interesting to point out that Zafón mirrors the lives of Daniel and Carax. It’s this duality that causes the greatest amount of conflict and sustains the reader through numerous sluggish parts. In learning of Carax’s life, Daniel is able to analyze his own choices and their potential outcomes.

What really adds to the overall brilliance is the cast of unique secondary characters. Normally, so many conflicting personalities can bog down the story, but Zafón balances them in a way that denotes his skill as a storyteller.

At a whopping 486 pages, “The Shadow of the Wind” is well worth the time and the $15 needed to tackle it. The book is available at most bookstores in the Marquette area.