The Harbinger Online

Safe From Larvae and Rust: The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind

Hi, my name is Guanghao. I like books and movies.

The title of this blog, “Safe From Larvae and Rust”, comes from a quote by author Vladimir Nabokov in an interview he gave Playboy magazine in 1964: “what makes a work of fiction safe from larvae and rust is not its social importance but its art, only its art”. The subject of this blog is art, specifically the art of literature and the cinema. While all works of literature are technically “art”, some are truly art: they stand out as the pinnacles of human creativity and expression. The works talked about here are “safe from larvae and rust” for the author’s’ technique, talent and sheer genius. Let’s start with our first one.

In middle school there were the Percy Jackson books, the Harry Potter books, The Hunger Games books, The Fault in Our Stars. Good stories, actions, the “awws” when the boy and girl get together. When I entered high school freshman year, my English teacher introduced me to The Shadow of the Wind, by Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Like when Adam and Eve first bit into the fruit, my eyes were opened. How could I have not known that language could be so beautiful? That it can do more than recounting events, but paint images as vivid as your own memories? That words are palettes for emotions, and more than anything, the author’s worth is truly measured not by their ability to tell fanciful wizard tales but to weave words into tapestries of poetry that resonates with the reader’s inner being?

Sorry for slipping into purple prose, but forget for a moment about the plot, the characters and the themes. If you flip to any page in some random book and read the first sentence you see, and that sentence creates a physical sensation in your spine that tells you you’re in the presence of art, then it’s a good book. This is what Shadow does for me. Yes, it has one of the richest, most intriguing plots (love, murder, sex, mystery, secrets, history, coming-of-age, oh my!) you’ll ever read. Yes, it has characters you’ll miss long after the book has ended. Yes, the gothic, noirish Barcelona will haunt you like the ghosts that roam its own streets. But none of that would exist without Ruiz Zafon’s brilliant, masterful command of the language, pulling you by puppet strings, evoking the widest array of emotions.

There’s nothing left to say but read it. Sink into the labyrinth of its plot, its atmosphere, its magical realism, its potent emotions, and most importantly, its language that made it all possible. It has forever changed my way of looking at books and literature, in a way that’s a lot more accessible and entertaining than Dickens, but just as “literary”. Have fun reading.

It has to be mentioned that much praise has to be given to the translator Lucia Graves (daughter of poet Robert Graves) for flawlessly transferring the work from the original Spanish to English. I wasn’t even aware that it was a translation when I first read it. Mr. Ruiz Zafon, who is fluent in both languages, wrote the novel in Spanish while living in Los Angeles. The novel received little attention upon initial publication in Spain, but reached enormous popularity in America. Only after its popularity in the U.S. brought it to such high status did it receive the attention it deserved in Spain. Now it is officially the best-selling novel in Spanish history.


The Shadow of the Wind is a 2001 novel written by the Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Set in 1940s-50s post-war gothic Barcelona, it starts with the protagonist, a boy named Daniel, being taken by his father to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The Cemetery is a labyrinthine library that’s the sanctuary for old and forgotten volumes. Books that are the last copies of their kind are saved from eternal oblivion and preserved by a select group of book lovers. When Daniel is initiated, he is allowed to choose a single book to take with him and protect it for life. That book, as it turns out, is called The Shadow of the Wind. Enamored and enthralled by its magic, Daniel attempts to discover other books by its author, only to find out that someone has been systematically destroying every single copy of the author’s books, rendering his copy of Shadow of the Wind to be possibly the only existing book by the author left. As Daniel grows older, the danger and threat approach closer as the culprit presents himself in the shadows, leaving Daniel no choice but to unravel the full story, complete with murder, love, betrayal…

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