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Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Lain Coubert

Nearing the end of La Sombra del Viento... I'm getting really agitated about the identity of the being who calls himself Lain Coubert. For a long time I was thinking this was Jorge Aldaya, consumed utterly by his hatred for Carax -- and that's still my fallback assumption; but Carax killed Aldaya in Paris, according to Nuria Monfort's narrative. So either Ruiz Zafón is going to need to explain how Monfort got it wrong, Aldaya/Coubert survived and returned to Barcelona and somehow sustained himself for the next 20 years... Or he will need to bring the supernatural into the story in a more immediate way than it has been -- I mean there have been a lot of ghosts in the book but it has not seemed like a "ghost story" in quite the way it would if Coubert is in fact a supernatural presence. Possibly I am overthinking this.

(Ooh -- or another possibility just occurred to me as of p. 395, one which would be a pretty fantastic twist if it were to come to pass...)

posted afternoon of February 13th, 2010: 1 response
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Monday, February 8th, 2010

Soundtrack: La Sombra del Viento

Ruiz Zafón is apparently a composer as well as an author -- I was searching on YouTube with the thought that some scenes from Shadow of the Wind might have been produced with an eye towards making a movie of it -- it seems like it would lend itself well to cinema -- and what did I find but this record of songs composed by Ruiz Zafón to accompany the book:

Well, wow: impressive. I am still thinking this is not a great book, though I'm liking the second half a lot better than the first. But I think it would make a really good movie, and filming it in black-and-white definitely seems like the way to go, and this soundtrack would go really well. It goes nicely with the reading, too.

Track listing below the fold.

posted evening of February 8th, 2010: 2 responses
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Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Vision

Aquella noche Jacinta vio a Zacarías de nuevo en sueños. El ángel ya no vestía en negro. Iba desnudo, y su piel estaba recubierta de escamas. Ya no le acompañaba su gato, sino una serpiente blanca enroscada en el torso. Su cabello había crecido hasta la cintura y su sonrisa, la sonrisa de caramelo que había besado en la catedral de Toledo, aparecía surcada de dientes triangulares y serrados como los que había visto en algunos peces de alta mar agitando la cola en la lonja de pescadores. Años mas tarde, la muchacha describiría esta visión a un Julián Carax de dieciocho años, recordando que el día en que Jacinta iba a dejar la pensión de la Ribera para mudarse al palacete Aldaya, supo que su amiga la Ramoneta había sido asesinada a cuchilladas en el portal aquella misma noche y que su bebé había muerto de frío en brazos del cadáver. Al saberse la noticia, los inquilinos de la pensión se enzarzaron en una pelea a gritos, puñadas y arañozos para disputarse las escasas pertenencias de la muerta. Lo único que dejaron fue el que había sido su tesoro más preciado: un libro. Jacinta lo reconoció, porque muchas noches la Ramoneta le había pedido si podía leerle una o dos páginas. Ella nunca había aprendido a leer.

That night, Jacinta again saw Zacarías in her dreams. The angel was no longer clothed in black. He was nude, and his skin was covered with scales. And he was no longer accompanied by his cat; instead a white serpent twined around his torso. His hair had grown down to his waist, and his smile -- the caramel smile which she had kissed in the cathedral of Toledo -- appeared to be cut through by triangular teeth, serrated like those she had seen in some fish of the high seas, their tails writhing at the fish market. Years later, the girl would describe this vision to a Julián Carax eighteen years old, remembering that on the day when Jacinta was leaving the Ribera boarding house to move to Aldaya's mansion, she learned that her friend Ramoneta had been murdered, stabbed in the doorway that same night, and that her baby had died of exposure in the corpse's arms. On learning the news, the tenants of the boarding house got in a screaming fight, throwing fists and scratching in a row over the dead woman's meager possessions. The only thing left was what had been her most cherished treasure: a book. Jacinta recognized it, for on many nights Ramoneta had asked if she'd read a page or two. Herself, she had never learned to read.

A key bit of plot development occurred at the end of Chapter 28, which was that Daniel had his first sexual experience*, with Bea. This seems to have opened up the book a lot, for the time being at least (as of Chapter 31) -- Daniel seems like a much better narrator for his experience. Daniel and Fermín's visit to the asylum has been gripping (though the detail about the old man's making Daniel promise to find him a hooker seemed a little silly.) The mysticism in Jacinta's story is seeming much more authentic to me than the mystical bits in the first half of the book.

Maybe the most striking thing is, the construction of the book is getting less transparent -- in the first half of the book, it has often been too blindingly obvious, just where Ruiz Zafón is going with each detail of the plot. As Daniel and Fermín move through Santa Lucía and listen to Jacinta's story, it is refreshingly hard to see where they're going.

* Or, well, nix that -- I was reading too much into the ellipses. But they kissed passionately, which for the purposes of this story seems to come to about the same thing.

posted evening of January 31st, 2010: Respond
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Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Going to

If nothing else, La sombra del viento is certainly broadening my understanding of Spanish tenses. For instance, I did not know there was a present continuous in Spanish -- and it does not seem to be very common, certainly not as ubiquitous as in English, but occasionally a character will say something like "¡Lo está inventando!" ("You're making that up!")* -- Daniel said this to Fermín a few chapters ago, I've forgotten just what the context was. And today I see for the first time something that looks a lot like the English future progressive** ("going to ...") when Fermín says "Me parece que va siendo hora de que nos dejemos de remilgos y de picar al portal como si pidiésemos limosna. En este asunto hay que entrar por la puerta de atrás." -- which I am reading as, "It seems to me that there's going to come a time when we will need to leave aside our squeamishness and stop knocking on the door as if we were begging for alms. In this matter it's necessary to enter through the back door." And a little later, he says "Pues vaya desempolvando el disfraz de monaguillo" -- something like "Then go dust off your altar-boy disguise" but expressed with that same combination of ir + -ndo, "You are going to dust off." In English you can say "You are going to" do something in an imperative voice, maybe that's what is going on here.

In general Fermín's language is a lot more flowery than that of the other characters, and harder to read without a dictionary. I believe Daniel remarked on this at some point right around the time Fermín was first introduced. I'm thinking Fermín is Ruiz Zafón's nod to Picaresque literature, he is intended as an archaism.

* More precisely, "¡Todo esto se lo está inventando usted!" -- the context is that Fermín is telling him the indigent hospital's hearse wagon had been donated "by a company from Hospitalet de Llobregat specializing in butcher products, of dubious reputation, which years later was involved in a scandal." Fermín replies in turn that his "gifts of imagination do not extend so far."

** Is this the correct name for what I'm talking about?

posted morning of January 30th, 2010: 2 responses
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Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

...and then I kissed her

So here is something I find frustrating about La sombra del viento -- it is seeming to me like way too much time is given over to Daniel's longings for female companionship. I understand that he's an 18-year-old kid, and one who has never kissed a girl, and he's going to be spending a lot of time thinking about that -- I can identify quite easily with that head -- but it just seems lamely cartoonish when every woman he interacts with is described in superlative terms as the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. Particularly annoying when he presents himself as such an ingenu, it seems like there are very labored descriptions of the beauty of women's faces and how he wants to kiss them but no acknowledgement of anything else. García Madero's constant harping on his virginity in part I of The Savage Detectives could get annoying certainly but at least he was up front about what he wanted.

Le hablé de mi primera visita al Cementario de los Libros Olvidados y de la noche que pasé leyendo La Sombra del Viento. Le hablé de mi encuentro con el hombre sin rostro y de aquella carta firmada por Penélope Aldaya que llevaba siempre conmigo sin saber por qué. Le hablé de cómo nunca había llegado a besar a Clara Barceló, ni a nadie, y de cómo me habían temblado las manos al sentir el roce do los labios de Nuria Monfort en la piel apenas unas horas atrás.

I told her about my first visit to the Graveyard of Forgotten Books and about the night which I had spent reading The Shadow of the Wind. I told her about my encounter with the faceless man and about that card bearing Penelope Aldaya's signature which I kept with me always, without knowing why. I told her how I had never gotten to kiss Clara Barceló, nor anybody, and how my hands had trembled brushing against the lips of Nuria Monfort just a few hours before.

See I can't quite picture him relating these particular details of his saga to Bea, the current object of his infatuation, as he's telling her about the mystery of Carax.

posted evening of January 20th, 2010: Respond
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Monday, January 18th, 2010

Starting out slow

As I've been (very slowly) reading La sombra del viento, I've been trying to figure out what is bothering me about the story. Something a little off, like the plot depends too heavily on coincidences, and too many things seem to happen all at once (in a story that takes place over a span of several years, all the narrative time is spent on key points where the plot advances -- it feels kind of heavy-handed)... Yesterday I put this into words for the first time at Oswaldo's place, and I realized what is really going on with the plotting, and why it is turning me off -- the obvious, slightly clumsy presence of the author is making it difficult to feel paranoid about the events in the novel, which seems like a key element of enjoying a detective story.

Well, so the strangest thing happened: after I verbalized that complaint I went back to the book; and it suddenly seemed like a much better book -- I'm at a loss for why* but last night and this morning I am really enjoying the story for the first time since the first couple of chapters.

* It seems to me like there are two possible explanations: (a) the book starts out slow and gets better, and I'm at the point right now where it gets better. Because I am reading it so slowly, the draggy parts are magnified for me. Or (b) my figuring out what my complaint was let me drop it and move on. (b) seems more plausible except I'm not sure quite how it would work; and also the portion of the book that I'm reading today just seems better than what I've been reading for the last couple of weeks. But I'm suspicious about the coincidence...

posted afternoon of January 18th, 2010: Respond

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

The Shadow of the Wind

Mariana has been telling me for a while that she thinks I would like La sombra del viento, today she loaned it to me. She describes it as a sort of Borgesian mystery story set in Barcelona. Interesting -- I've never heard of Carlos Ruiz Zafón... The beginning is indeed sounding that way -- I'm in love with the idea of a Graveyard of Forgotten Books.

Cada libro, cada tomo que ves, tiene alma. El alma de quien lo escribió, y el alma de quienes lo leyeron y vivieron y soñaron con él. Cada vez que alguien desliza la mirada por sus páginas, su espíritu crece y se hace fuerte. Hace ya muchos años, cuando mi padre me trajo por primera vez aquí, este lugar ya era viejo. Quizá tan viejo como la misma ciudad. Nadie sabe a ciencia cierta desde cuándo existe, o quiénes lo crearon. Te diré lo que mi padre me dijo a mí. Cuando una biblioteca desaparece, cuando una librería cierra sus puertas, cuando un libro se pierde en el olvido, los que conocemos este lugar, los guardianes, nos aseguramos de que llegue aquí. En este lugar, los libros que ya nadie recuerda, los libros que se han perdido en el tiempo, viven para siempre, esperando llegar algún día a las manos de un nuevo lector, de un nuevo espíritu.

Each book, each tome you see here, has a soul. The soul of the one who writes it, and the soul of those who read and live with and speak about it. Each time someone slides his gaze across its pages, its spirit grows and becomes strong. Many years ago now, when my father brought me here for the first time, this place was already old. Perhaps older than the city itself. Nobody knows in any precise way how long it has stood, or who brought it into being. I'll tell you what my father told me: whenever a library disappears, whenever a bookstore closes its doors, whenever a book is lost to forgetfulness, those who know this place, the keepers, we are assured that it will come here. In this place, the books that nobody remembers anymore, the books which have been lost in time, live forever, awaiting the arrival of some new reader's hands, of a new spirit.

(possibly this passage is laying the mysticism on a little thick -- also there is something awkwardly paternalistic in having Daniel's father tell him about this. Now I am thinking of The Never-ending Story -- this could be a good association or a bad one, not sure.) Also this very nice description of a used bookstore:
El piso estaba situado justo encima de la librería especializada en ediciones de coleccionista y libros usados heredada de mi abuelo, un bazar encantado que mi padre confiaba en que algún día pasaría a mis manos. Me crié entre libros, haciendo amigos invisibles en páginas que se deshacían en polvo y cuyo olor aún conservo en las manos.

The flat was right on top of the bookstore, specializing in collectable editions and used books, inherited from my grandfather; an enchanted bazaar which my father let me know would pass into my hands one day. I was brought up among books, making invisible friends in their pages, pages which crumbled into dust and whose odor I still keep on my hands.

...I'm thinking, three works which it might be fun to compare and contrast, are this, The Never-ending Story, and The New Life.

En una ocasión oí comentar a un cliente habitual en la librería de mi padre que pocas cosas marcan tanto a un lector como el primer libro que realmente se abre camino hasta su corazón. Aquellas primeras imágenes, el eco de esas palabras que creemos haber dejado atrás, nos acompañan toda la vida y esculpen un palacio en nuestra memoria al que, tarde o temprano -- no importa cuántos libros leamos, cuántos mundos descubramos, cuánto aprendamos u olvidemos --, vamos a regresar. Para mí, esas páginas embrujadas siempre serán las que encontré entre los pasillos del Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados.

One time I heard a regular customer of my father's bookstore saying that few things mark a reader as strongly as the first book which really opens a path to his heart. Those first images, the echo of those words which we think we have left behind, stay with us all our life and build themselves into a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later -- it's not important how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, how much we learn and forget --, we return. For me, those enchanted pages will always be those which I found in the aisles of the Graveyard of Forgotten Books.
This first chapter could as easily be either the enclosing narrative for a fantasy like The New Life, or for a story-within-a-story retelling of the book he has found. I think it is going to be different from either of those.

posted evening of December 13th, 2009: Respond

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