The Shadow of the Wind (Spanish: La sombra del viento) is a 2001 novel by the Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón and a worldwide bestseller. The book was translated into English in 2004 by Lucia Graves and sold over a million copies in the UK after already achieving success on mainland Europe, topping the Spanish bestseller lists for weeks. It was published in the United States by Penguin Books and in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Orion Books. It is believed to have sold 15 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling books of all time.
The novel is actually a story within a story. The novel opens in the 1940’s with the protagonist, Daniel, a boy whose father owns a bookshop in Barcelona. One day, his father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten books – a secret labyrinthine library that houses rare and banned books. Daniel is drawn to one called “The Shadow of the Wind” by Julian Carax and takes it home with him. Daniel quickly reads and falls in love with the story. He soon discovers that the book’s mysterious author, Carax, has gone missing along with every other copy of “The Shadow of the Wind” and most of his other works. Daniel then sets out to find out what happened to the author and his books.
When word gets around that Daniel possesses the only known copy of “The Shadow of the Wind,” he receives an inquiry from Gustavo Barcelo, a rare bookseller and expert on Carax who wishes to purchase it. Daniel refuses to sell it, but soon falls in love with Barcelo’s blind niece, Clara, and begins to pay frequent visits to read “The Shadow of the Wind” to her. However, she is several years older and does not reciprocate his feelings. His possession of the book also attracts the attention of a mysterious stranger with a badly burned and disfigured face named Lain Coubert (the name of the character of the devil in the book) who is also trying to get his hands on it.
Daniel befriends a man who goes by the alias of Fermín Romero de Torres, who was imprisoned and tortured in Montjuïc Castle as a result of his involvement in espionage against the government during the Civil War. After being hired as an assistant in his father’s bookshop, he helps Daniel investigate the mystery of Carax. But 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.
Thus, unravelling a long story that has been buried in the depths of oblivion, Daniel and Fermín come across a love story, the beautiful yet tragic story of Julián and Penélope, both of whom seem to have been missing since 1919—that is, nearly thirty years earlier. Julián, who was the son of the hatter Antoni Fortuny and his wife Sophie Carax, and Penélope Aldaya, the only daughter of the extremely wealthy Don Ricardo Aldaya and his beautiful, narcissistic American wife, developed an instant love for each other. They lived a clandestine relationship only through casual furtive glances and faint smiles for around four years, after which they decided to elope to Paris, unaware that the shadows of misfortune had been closing in on them ever since they had met. The two lovers are doomed to unknown fates just a week before their supposed elopement, which is meticulously planned by Julián’s best friend, Miquel Moliner—also the son of a wealthy father. It is eventually revealed that Miquel loved Julián more than any brother and finally sacrificed his own life for him, having already abandoned his desires and his youth for causes of charity and his friend’s well-being after his elopement to Paris — although without Penélope, who never turned up for the rendezvous.
Penélope’s memory keeps burning in Julián’s heart, and this eventually forces him to return to Barcelona (in the mid 1930s); however he encounters the harsh truth about Penélope, nothing more than a memory to those who knew her since disappearing in 1919. Daniel discovers, from the note Nuria Monfort (the wife of the deceased Miquel Molinar) left for him, that Julián and Penélope are actually half-brother and sister; her father had an affair with his mother and Julián was the result. The worst thing he learns is that after Julián left, Penélope’s parents imprisoned her because they were ashamed of her committing incest with him and she was pregnant with his child. Penélope gave birth to a son named David Aldaya, who was stillborn. Penélope died in childbirth, due to her parents’ ignoring her cries for help, and her body was placed in the family crypt along with her child’s. When returning to the Aldaya Mansion, Julián is enraged and embittered by the news of his love’s death along with their child’s. He hates every wasted second of his life without Penélope and hates his books all the more. He begins to burn all of his novels and calls himself Lain Coubert.
After finishing reading the book, Daniel marries Beatriz “Bea” Aguilar, whom he has loved for a long time and assisted him in his quest to unravel the Carax mystery, in 1956. Soon after, Bea gives birth to a son. Daniel names his son Julián Sempere, in honor of Julián Carax. In 1966, Daniel takes Julián to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where The Shadow of the Wind is kept.