We destroy the beauty of the countryside because the un-appropriated splendors of nature have no economic value. We are capable of shutting off the sun and the stars because they do not pay a dividend. — John Maynard Keynes
I just finished reading "the greatest international success of the Spanish novel" which is now (just since 2002) in its 39th edition. It's awful, as Spanish critics have been quick to point out. Spanish readers, however, love it. For my detailed critique (in Spanish), click on Ruiz Zafón, Carlos. La sombra del viento. Characters are one-dimensional, save one -- Fermín Romero de Torres, a marvelous comic creation -- and the spooky plot is ridiculously complicated and utterly implausible. The truly evil bad-guy and the crazy failed novelist trying to destroy his own books become less and less interesting as you get to know them, until finally you (or at least I) don't care much what happens to them. Except for the puzzle interest, which must be why the goofy mystery kept me turning the pages. Apart from Fermín and his hilarious monologues -- imagine a Catalonian Cantínflas -- the other thing I liked was the evocation of Barcelona in the early, fear-saturated years of Franco's rule. Coincidentally, Alex Cockburn's essay in the current Nation, written from Barcelona, also discusses the notorious prison-castle of Montjuic, which figures large in this novel.