Carlos Ruiz Zafón passed away on Friday. Colon cancer. He was only 55.
Ruiz Zafón is the author of one of my favorite novels, The Shadow of the Wind. It is a book I wish I could read again for the first time. Set in Barcelona and opening in 1945, it’s the story about a boy who becomes obsessed with a book and its author. He tries to track down the author only to find that someone has been trying to destroy all copies of the book. It’s one of those juicy novels that has a little bit of everything — mystery, romance, thriller and gothic elements — that you’ll revel getting lost in.
When I worked at Borders, a coworker, Missy, put the book in my hands and told me to read it. I started the novel that day and will be forever grateful to her for not just telling me about the book, but for putting a copy in my hands. In turn, I put the book into the hands of other coworkers, customers, friends, and loved ones.
This being a blog, I obviously can’t put the book directly into your hands, but I can ask you to read the opening scene of the novel, which I’ve typed up below. If you’ve read The Shadow of the Wind, you’ll no doubt remember how this scene draws you in.
I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time. It was the early summer of 1945, and we walked through the streets of a Barcelona trapped beneath ashen skies as dawn poured over Rambla de Santa Mónica in a wreath of liquid copper.
“Daniel, you mustn’t tell anyone what you’re about to see today,” my father warned. “Not even your friend Tomás. No one.”
“Not even Mommy?”
My father sighed, hiding behind the sad smile that followed him like a shadow through life.
“Of course you can tell her,” he answered, heavyhearted. “We keep no secrets from her. You can tell her everything.”
Shortly after the Civil War, an outbreak of cholera had taken my mother away. We buried her in Montjuïc on my fourth birthday. I can only recall that it rained all day and all night, and that when I asked my father whether heaven was crying, he couldn’t bring himself to reply. Six years later my mother’s absence remained in the air around us, a deafening silence that I had not yet learned to stifel with words. My father and I lived in a modest apartment on Calle Santa Ana, a stone’s throw from the church square. The apartment was directly above the bookshop, a legacy from my grandfather that specialized in rare collectors’ editions and secondhand books–an enchanted bazaar, which my father hoped would one day day be mine. I was raised among books, making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day. As a child I learned to fall asleep talking to my mother in the darkness of my bedroom, telling her about the day’s events, my adventures at school, and the things I had been taught. I couldn’t hear her voice or feel her touch, but her radiance and her warmth haunted every corner of our home, and I believed, with the innocence of those who can still count their age on their ten fingers, that if I closed my eyes and spoke to her, she would be able to hear me wherever she was. Sometimes my father would listen to me from the dining room, crying in silence.
On that June morning, I woke up screaming at first light. My heart was pounding in my chest as if it feared that my soul wanted to carve its way out and run off down the stairs. My father hurried into the my room and held me in his arms, trying to calm me.
“I can’t remember her face. I can’t remember Mommy’s face,” I muttered, breathless.
My father held me tight.
“Don’t worry, Daniel. I’ll remember for both of us.”
We looked at each other in the half-light, searching for words that didn’t exist. For the first time, I realized my father was growing old. He stood up and drew the curtains to let in the pale glint of dawn.
“Come, Daniel, get dressed. I want to show you something,” he said.
“Now? At five o’clock in the morning?”
“Some things can only be seen in the shadows,” my father said, flashing a mysterious smile probably borrowed from the pages of one of his worn Alexandre Dumas romances.
You want more, don’t you?
Who can resist the idea of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books? Or a family that lives above a bookshop? Or the gentleness of this father-son relationship? I’d lost my own father some years before I read this novel and longing for him no doubt made this scene pull at my heartstrings in ways that perhaps it doesn’t for others. I don’t know. But with today also being father’s day in the US–even if this is just a hallmark holiday–I thought it a touching scene of fatherly love to share with you.
I think the best way to honor a writer’s memory is to share their words and recommend their books. I hope you’ll check out Ruiz Zafón’s books. The Shadow of the Wind is the first book in a four book series. Here’s his website to learn more: https://www.carlosruizzafon.co.uk/
The Shadow of the Wind was first published in Spain in 2001. It was translated into English by Lucia Graves and published by The Penguin Press in 2004. It has been translated into over 40 languages and sold over 15 million copies.