Review: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

“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. ”

Just as I was thinking to myself how implausibly good it feels not having DNF’ed a book in a long while, The Shadow of the Wind comes into my life.

I went into this pretty open-minded expecting a book about loving books and reading, instead I receive a pretentious piece of confusing fiction, trying to appear smarter than it really is. Plus, having it use one of my most hated writing techniques of telling with little to no showing. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough we then have the dialogue whose sole job in this book is to convey information. There’s not even one point where the author tried to humanize the characters by making them appear more complex and dynamic, as one would expect. Or achieving that feeling of creating “characters who seemed as real to me as my surroundings.” Instead both the dialogue and the action grew extremely stilted the more I read on.

Take for example this next passage that had me saying enough is enough:

“Bea, wait.”
I cursed myself and ran after her. I stopped her halfway down the corridor, grabbing her by the arm. She threw me a burning look.
“I’m sorry. But you’re wrong: it’s not your fault, it’s mine. I’m the one who isn’t as good as your brother. And if I’ve insulted you, it’s because I’m jealous of that idiot boyfriend of yours and because I’m angry to think that someone like you would follow him to El Ferrol. It might as well be the Congo.”
“Daniel . . .”
“You’re wrong about me, because we can be friends if you let me try, now that you know how worthless I am. And you’re wrong about Barcelona, too, because you may think you’ve seen everything, but I can guarantee that’s not true. If you’ll allow me, I can prove it to you.”
I saw a smile light up and a slow, silent tear fall down her cheek.
“You’d better be right,” she said. “Because if you’re not, I’ll tell my brother, and he’ll pull your head off like a stopper.”

No one talks like that in real life… Also, this passage shows just how utterly lazy the author is with his writing by making two characters that were supposed enemies (literally) one page ago “bond” by appearing in the same location. It’s pretty obvious that instead of creating a new multifaceted character, Zafón opted to reuse a character we already know, who has a boyfriend, mind you, and have the main character be suddenly infatuated…

Also, this next passage illustrates my point perfectly of the dialogue being between detective and suspect.

“Are you a collector?”
“Something like that.”
“Do you have other books by Carax?”
“I’ve had them at some point. Julián Carax is my specialty, Daniel. I travel the world in search of his books.”
“And what do you do with them if you don’t read them?”
The stranger made a stifled, desperate sound. It took me a while to realize that he was laughing.
“The only thing that should be done with them, Daniel,” he answered.
He pulled a box of matches out of his pocket. He took one and struck it. The flame showed his face for the first time. My blood froze. He had no nose, lips, or eyelids. His face was nothing but a mask of black scarred skin, consumed by fire. It was the same dead skin that Clara had touched.
“Burn them,” he whispered, his voice and his eyes poisoned by hate.”

Please, don’t write dialogue just to convey information to the reader. I want to read and feel emotions from the characters, not like I’m reading a transcript from a court case.

It’s been too long since I’ve last been this heated over my lack of interest with a book. And I least of all expected it to be The Shadow of the Wind, which has such beautiful quotes here on Goodreads.

“As I walked in the dark through the tunnels and tunnels of books, I could not help being overcome by a sense of sadness. I couldn’t help thinking that if I, by pure chance, had found a whole universe in a single unknown book, buried in that endless necropolis, tens of thousands more would remain unexplored, forgotten forever. I felt myself surrounded by millions of abandoned pages, by worlds and souls without an owner sinking in an ocean of darkness, while the world that throbbed outside the library seemed to be losing its memory, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wiser the more it forgot.”

And that’s exactly what rendered me the most dissatisfied. The fact that most of the well-known quotes are taken from the first 100 pages of the book left me feeling exasperated, so much so that I couldn’t come up with one reason to continue reading. I didn’t care at all for the cardboard characters with zero storyline, so I had to put The Shadow of the Wind down after just 115 pages. And frankly, I have no regrets.

I will say, though, that this book had magnificent moments at the start when I put in the effort to listen to instrumental music (like this playlist). It heightens the reading experience by a landslide. The book goes from an effort to read to feeling like you’re watching a movie, which is why I was eager to look into whether this had any adaptions in the works… But unfortunately the author “will not sell the rights to any studio” because “he says that the story was written in order to be a book and we don’t want to lose the magic in a movie.” Figures…

no rating

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Review: A Bunch of Jews (and other stuff) by Trina Robbins

A Bunch of Jews 1-- bookspoilsI have an ever-growing fascination with Yiddish literature thanks to my Ashkenazi roots, so I was ecstatic when I saw that Trina Robbins had adapted her father’s A Minyen Yidn un Andere Zakhn into comic form.

This collection of engaging and humane short stories, featuring different sets of illustrators for each one, of arrogant schoolteachers, boastful travelers, stingy merchants, adoring pets, and all the disasters and triumphs that can happen to families and tight-knit communities. “It’s a snapshot of a way of life that would end with the coming of the Nazis and WW2, although none of them knew it yet.”

However, while I enjoyed most of the tones and themes explored in the stories – a deep mixture of melancholy and nostalgia – most tales would end a bit nonsensical and unclear to me, so that it became harder and harder to appreciate to message. But on a brighter (and a bit random) note, the short story about latkes made me crave them by a tenfold, so bonus points for that.A Bunch of Jews 2-- bookspoilsSince this comic adaption was on the shorter side, I’m intrigued to check out the book by the author’s father, Muttel (Mutye) Perechudnik, originally published in Yiddish. And I do hope that more comics like this one will be adapted in the future.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: March 21st, 2017

4/5 stars

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Review: Up From the Sea by Leza Lowitz

I’m grateful to have completed my reading goal of the year (100 books) with this heartrending novel-in-verse. Up From the Sea follows the life of how one teen boy survives the March 2011 tsunami that devastates his coastal Japanese village.

“What could possibly hurt me
more than this quake
already has?”

On that fateful day, Kai loses nearly everyone and everything he cares about in the storm. When he’s offered a trip to New York to meet kids whose lives were changed by 9/11, Kai realizes he also has a chance to look for his estranged American father. Visiting Ground Zero on its tenth anniversary, Kai learns that the only way to make something good come out of the disaster back home is to return there and help rebuild his town.

I went into this read expecting it to grow in intensity with each passing page since it’s tackling such a heavy subject matter. However, I felt like there was little to no emotion inserted in the writing where it counted the most. In the end, it came off quite distant and disconnected from what I was anticipating with the discussions of 3/11 and the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

“We all remember
exactly where we were
and what we were doing
when our lives
changed forever.

9/11 and 3/11 are so different,
two separate disasters—
but maybe they’re also
the same, Tomo says.

How so? Kenji asks.

Each one changed
our country forever.”

The afterword where the author discussed the inspiration behind some of the scenes in Up From the Sea was the one place where I felt everything I should’ve encountered during my reading experience.

“Inspired by a young boy I met in the disaster zone, I began a novel about a boy who loves soccer and creates a team to rally his town after the tsunami. Months later, I discovered that exactly this had been done in coastal Onagawa. The team is the Cobaltore Onagawa Football Club. Supporters from all over the world helped in the difficult days following the disaster.
Later, I learned that a soccer ball that had belonged to a teenager in Rikuzentakata washed up in Alaska. Amazingly, the ball was found by a man with a Japanese wife who could read the messages written on it. The couple traced the owner and traveled to Japan to return the ball.”

I really wish I’d read this before starting the book.

But as with any read there are still a few pieces that made me experience something deeper within myself. Here’s a handful of them:

Up From the Sea 1-- bookspoils

 

“THERE’S A SAYING IN COASTAL TOWNS—

inochi tendenko—
save your own life first.

A long time ago,
if you wanted to
marry someone from the coast,
the elders asked:

“If a tsunami came,
who would you save first?
Your wife and child,
or yourself?”

“If you can’t save yourself first,”
they said,
“you can’t marry anyone here.”
They’d lived through a tsunami,
knew its full power.

It’s true.
If you can’t save your own life,
the town will disappear.

And if that happens,
the future, too,
will disappear.

So don’t you dare
feel guilty for being alive,
Old Man Sato says,
looking from me to Taro
and back again.

We’ve got the future
to build.”

 

Up From the Sea 2-- bookspoils

 

Up From the Sea 3-- bookspoils


Ultimately, this survival story based on real life emotional events is vividly capturing and ends on a hopeful note.

I also listened on repeat to my favorite song of Lorde’s new album while reading:

3/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Up From the Sea, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!