The first book that made my heart beat.

One man simply said the book “was like velvet.” Another remarked that this book was the “first book he’d read which made his heart beat.” A well-regarded curmudgeon in our group of readers quietly stated that the book lacked nothing, he had not a word of criticism, it was that perfect. Shadow of the Wind was a brilliant success among our book discussion group, each of whom devoured a 486-page book in two weeks and could have kept turning pages.

As a beloved character Bea says: “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, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce every day.” Not so with our 25 book group participants at Sterling Correctional Facility.

The novel, set in Barcelona in the period following the Spanish Civil War, introduces a young boy, Daniel Sempere. Just after the war, Daniel’s father takes him to the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a huge library of old, forgotten titles lovingly preserved by a select few initiates. According to tradition, everyone invited to this secret place is allowed to take one book from it and must protect it for life. Daniel selects a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. That morning he takes the book home and reads it, completely engrossed. Daniel then attempts to look for other books by this unknown author but can find none. All he comes across are stories of a strange man—calling himself Laín Coubert, after a character in the book who happens to be the Devil—who has been seeking out Carax’s books for decades, buying and burning them all.

The novel is actually a story within a story. Fifteen-year-old Daniel Sempere, in his quest to discover Julian’s other works, becomes involved in tracing the entire history of Carax. We meet his friend Fermin Romero de Torres, an unforgettable character. Fermin was imprisoned and tortured in Montjuic Castle for having been involved in an espionage against the Anarchists during the war—himself being a government intelligence agent—and helps Daniel in a number of seemingly impossible ways through their long friendship. Their probing into the murky past of a number of people who have been either long dead or long forgotten unleashes the dark forces of the murderous Inspector Fumero. And that, amazingly, is just the beginning.

It is believed to have sold 15 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling books of all time. Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s wondrous and masterful novel took our group on a literary journey they will not soon forget. The compelling story invited the readers to be transported to the cobblestoned streets of Barcelona, feeling the wind and rain on their faces and the rich, lavish comfort of a cup of tea with a bite to eat on a cold winter night.