This was a deeply engrossing read! The sad news is that this talented Spanish novelist has just passed on June 19. May he rest in peace!
The story, set in Barcelona around the mid-1900s (from the start of the Spanish Civil War to 1956), revolves around a young booklover Daniel Sempere’s quest to solve the mystery as to why someone has been seeking to burn all the books written by a certain little-known author Julian Carax. We follow Daniel’s personal growth journey that witnesses his transformation from an immature lad caught in and wounded by his puppy love for an older but sophisticated woman, to a compassionate young adult who has come to learn the meaning of true love and how not to squander it.
While on this journey, we follow Daniel into another world, a world with Julian Carax and Javier Fumero at the epicenter, two childhood friends turned archenemies. This maze of a world is full of gothic intrigue and mystery and spins around unrequited love, soured brotherhood, jealousy, cruel personal vendetta and brutal political machinations at the expense of innocent lives, but it is also illumined with true and selfless love and loyal friendship. Daniel discovers that where love is concerned, his fate runs almost parallel to Julian’s: his lover Bea eludes him just as Julian’s Penelope remains out of reach. But ultimately, Daniel is much luckier than Julian.
Daniel is the main narrator of the story, but toward the end a long chapter is devoted to Nuria Montfort’s narration, and Nuria is the woman who falls inextricably in love with Julian but knows his heart belongs to Penelope. Nuria is also the one who holds the key to the mystery that Daniel has been trying to unravel, and for this she pays dearly.
From the author’s lively description of the streetscapes and landscapes of Barcelona, one can sense his intimate love for the city in which he was born.
Here are some of my favorite passages:
One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn’t have to understand something to feel it. By the time the mind is able to comprehend what has happened, the wounds of the heart are already too deep.
One loves truly only once in a life time, Julian, even if one isn’t aware of it.
Beas says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, and that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.
My heart ached for Julian when I put down the novel. I’m giving this novel 4.6 stars, rounded up to 5.