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5.0 étoiles sur 5
Classic fantasy of censorship, 31 août 2005
This is an engrossing work; within the first chapter or two you understand why it has become such a popular novel. It's 1945, it's Barcelona, the Civil War has been lost and Franco's Fascists are firmly in control ... though feeling insecure, because Hitler's Fascism is crumbling and Mussolini's has already been dismantled. A bookseller takes his young son, Daniel, on an adventure ... a visit to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, there to choose one forgotten work and treasure it.
Thus begins the child's fascination with the author of "The Shadow of the Wind", one Julian Carax. The child grows, determined to discover who was this mysterious Carax, why did he flee Barcelona, and why is some mysterious stranger determined to destroy all copies of his books and all trace of his life.
The destruction of an artist's life and works is a potent exploration of censorship and the ability of Franco's followers to fictionalise history. Carlos Ruiz Zafon has life imitating art: Daniel's life seems to parallel Carax's! Is this a case of not learning from history? One of the characters remarks that true evil requires thought and reason, but that most people who do evil are too stupid to intellectualise their behaviour: they act simplistically out of corrupted emotions ... fear, anger, jealousy, guilt, greed.
Fascism, we see, took a hold because not enough people were prepared to act to stop it. Fascism will return if people are too lazy to think, to value, to question. History can repeat itself unless people learn.
But Fascism - which tries to impose a rigid structure on the State and its people - creates intense loneliness. People live in fear of exposure, of seizure by the secret police because they dare to think differently. Daniel's is the loneliness of fear, but it's also the loneliness of teenage love - lusty, erotic, but ultimately fragile and insecure. As a teenager, how do you know you are in love? You weave your dreams and hopes, but lack the experience to compare, to know for sure. You barely understand desire, let alone love. As a teenager, history never repeats itself, because you simply don't yet have enough emotional history!
Haunted, pursued by the mysterious leather-faced man who is out to destroy Carax's work, Daniel is haunted by the women he desires, is haunted by the need to construct a sexual and emotional self beyond the boundaries of childhood. Freedom, here, is hardly political freedom, but rather escape from emotional and sexual censorship. As Daniel strides out into the world, we watch his friendships and family dissolve around him. He has to build adult relationships now, not childish ones.
This is a book which works on so many levels. The focus is primarily on the fantasy world Daniel creates, the fantasy, shadowy world of resistance to Fascism, to censorship and mind control. It is fantasy until it runs smack into reality, the reality of a mature world. Suddenly, we have a murder mystery on our hands. We have political intrigue. We have eroticism.
"The Shadow of the Wind" is an extraordinarily well-written novel. It moves at a gentle, cerebral pace - you barely notice you are on a rollercoaster ride through fantasy. Yet it is a wonderful evocation of Barcelona - not the city of tourist brochure and sunshine, but a dark, mysterious city, lived in by real people enduring real fear and oppression. The fantasy is merely a dark cloak - once you begin to peer under it you feel this is a vivid insight into the subconscious of Spain.
It is a wholly absorbing, and highly unusual, mystery which will engross you. If I have one criticism, I felt the last quarter of the novel is comparatively weak. The ending can appear a little hasty and contrived. Having created a fantasy, turned it into a dark mystery and eroticised the romance, the ending could have been better played and plotted. But overall, a lovely, thoroughly enjoyable novel which will engage you on a number of levels and leave your mind stimulated.