The Secret Story: Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind

There is a spot along the southern wall of the Ann Arbor public library where the shelves wrap into an odd and isolated corner. There, on a shelf at right about eye level, you can find a copy of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Farthest Shore. Or at least you could, for many years. I would know, given that I spent a large portion of my employment as a maintenance worker at that library tucked into that corner, reading that book over and over again. In my defense, there wasn’t much maintenance to be done most of the time and there weren’t any security cameras with a view of the area, so my boss didn’t know I was slacking off. (Actually, he probably knew. But he couldn’t see it happening and that counts for something.)

Over the years that I spent “maintaining” that building, I came to believe that libraries are wonderfully conflicted places. Writing creates a sense of true vulnerability in the author and the act of reading, which is inherently personal to begin with, shares in that vulnerability. It’s all very intimate. And yet libraries are public spaces, filled with countless strangers. I think then that part of the allure of the library is that, if you know where to look, you might find something wonderful and personal and secret hiding in plain sight among its easily accessible shelves.

But what if the library itself was secret to begin with? If you found yourself in such a place, what mysteries might you uncover? Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind begins in just such a place—more specifically, in the gloriously named Cemetery of Forgotten Books—and never stops considering the idea of the secret story. The novel’s plot is a series of nested narratives, each concerned with some hidden history, wherein every layer of the matryoska is somehow a version of the same story. It’s a little confusing but never overwhelming and almost always gratifying, the perfect type of story to read in a secret space at your public library, alone amongst the strangers, hidden in your own corner of shadow.

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