Shadows of Censorship

Parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona

Imagine this:

You go the the library because, say, you just finished your Freshman Monroe Project and now you’re looking for a good read or two.  You weave in and out of the shelves for a while.  Finally, you select a book at random off of the shelf, attracted merely by the shiny new cover and the attractive color scheme.  You, my friend, are a by-the-cover-book-judger.  You’ve never heard of the author, and it’s the only one by him on the shelf.  You go home and start the book.

This is your first mistake.

Taken in by the beautifully written prose and the evocative imagery, you hunker down and blast right through the thing in about 12 hours, finishing in the wee hours of the morning.  You loved it so flippin’ much, it’s the best gosh darn book you’ve ever read, that you scoot your little bleary-eyed self right over to your laptop to order the complete works of the author on Amazon.

Only… dun dun dun… YOU CAN’T EVEN FIND A MENTION OF HIM ANYWHERE.  You conduct frantic Google search after frantic Google search without avail.  The librarian doesn’t know where they got the book or anything more useful.  Determined to find out, you keep probing, asking around, because you’re just crazy to read another one of this guy’s books!

Well, that was your second mistake.  Because now you’ve got yourself in a situation where a demented man with his face burned off is chasing after you and threatening everyone you love.  Why?  Because he’s determined to burn that one precious book you have, effectually obliterating anything and everything that talented author ever wrote.

Visualization exercise over.

Now, that might have seemed like an insane flight of fancy on my part.  (That’s mostly what it was.)  BUT!  Never fear.  There is a method to my madness.  Because the scenario I just described is essentially the plot of the Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s novel, The Shadow of the Wind. Take everything you just imagined, but place it in Barcelona circa 1945, in a city haunted by poverty and oppression, and you’ve got yourself one fine damn novel!

Allow me to explain: my Monroe project has to do with Zafón’s novel.  It also has to do with a class that I took spring semester with Professor Cate-Arries,”Franquismo y sus fantasmas” or “Franco-ism and its ghosts” for you non-hispanohablantes.  It sounds much better in Spanish.

The Shadow of the Wind is, superficially, a literary mystery: a very well-written page-turner with memorable characters and a fascinating plot set in a different country in a different era. The first time I read it, before my junior year of high school, that’s all I got out of it and it was still a phenomenal read. But junior year is when things started to fall into place. Both my European History class and my Spanish IV class covered the Spanish Civil War and, briefly, General Francisco Franco’s long-enduring reign over Spain.

I re-read The Shadow of the Wind, which suddenly took on layers of new significance. The protagonist, Daniel, visits the mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books as a child, where threatened books are guaranteed a safe home. Daniel is permitted to select one book from the labyrinth with the caveat that he must protect it as long as he lives. He finds a novel by Julian Carax, also entitled The Shadow of the Wind, and- well, you know the rest. He can’t find any of Carax’s other works and so he goes on with his life. He grows up and falls in love, and only when his existence is suddenly threatened (remember that terrifying man with the burned face from the previous daydream? ) does he devote himself almost obsessively to finding out what happened to Carax and his novels, and why the sinister figure has devoted himself to destroying them.

With the context of the Civil War and the oppression enforced by Franco’s regime in mind, the plot is not only gripping but historically significant. Book burning sounds suspiciously familiar, alluding to the censorship that Franco’s cronies devoted serious amounts of time and effort to during the years from 1939-1975. Books were censored, movies were censored. In Barcelona and the rest of Catalonia, as well as other regions of Spain such as the Basque region, censorship even extended to language. Speaking Catalan- the “national” language of Catalonia- was strictly prohibited and doing so was enough to flag you as a potential subversive.

With this background in mind, other parts of the book stuck out too. There are varied references to the war, as well as to Franco’s secret police. One of the main villains in the book is in fact a sadistic detective who kills and/or tortures Communists, atheists, homosexuals, etc. for laughs.

So there’s the basis for my project. In Prof. Cate-Arries’ class, we studied a pretty varied selection of literature and film produced under Franco’s regime and after it. We looked at how subtly subversive texts escaped the censors through cleverness, and how some texts could be easily manipulated to serve either side’s interests. With my project, I thought to extend this study to a modern novel- Zafón’s best-seller was written in 2001- and see how this period is remembered in a popular, contemporary text. I traveled to Spain with my dear friend Nicky Bell in order to do some hands-on research in Barcelona. And I think this serves as a lengthy enough introduction. Just as a special bonus sneak preview, here’s what I plan to do in future blog posts:

1) I’ll examine the novel in more depth, analyzing some specific passages and quotes to get a sense of what Zafón’s depiction of post-war Barcelona entails, and

2) I’ll give a more comprehensive historical background, including some of my research from Barcelona itself. (HINT: Much reading was done in a language I do not, in fact, speak. So… you can judge for yourselves how well that went.)

3) Finally, I’ll draw some conclusions about the whole shebang. Betcha can’t wait.

As they say in Spain, “chao, guapos.”


  1. Molly McDonough says:

    Hey Leksa! Upon seeing your post on my blog, I came to check out yours! The Shadow of the Wind sounds like a fantastic read from your summary, and I will definitely be putting it at the top of my reading list. This project sounds great, and I can’t wait to read more about it in your blogs. I’m quite envious that much of your research was conducted in Barcelona, and I’m glad it was a good experience for you. One of Saura’s films that I’m watching (La Caza) is a critique of the war that was made in a subtle way in order to subvert the censorship of the times. In the class that I took with Professor Cate-Arries, we read an excerpt from Giles Tremlett’s Ghosts of Spain: Travels through Spain and It’s Silent Past. I don’t know if you looked at this at all in your class, but you might find it an interesting read. We only read the first chapter, but it was all about how Spain is both literally and figuratively digging up its own past in order to retell the story of the years of the Civil War and the oppression that follows. Anyways, I’m excited to read the rest of your blogs as well as your final paper! Best of luck!


  2. jrruckert says:

    Leksa! I absolutely loved your visualization exercise. I can just picture you sitting in the lounge with your fierce Natalie Portman weave (your stylist was a genius!), leading a group of people through this. Anyway, from your description, The Shadow of the Wind definitely sounds like something worth reading. It comes of as the sort-of Spanish equivalent to Fahrenheit 451, except much more significant given the country’s history (I’d say Franco-era censorship would trump Red Scare-era censorship). I’m definitely excited to hear more about your findings soon. Good luck with your finishing touches!