Shadow of the Wind

Shadow of the Wind cover


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Book Review

In The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Daniel’s quest to find the author of a book leads him on a journey of mystery, adventure and romance.

Plot Summary

The year is 1945. In Barcelon, 10-year-old Daniel Sempere’s bookseller father takes him on a special trip to a place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It is a secret holding place for books that are old or out of print. As a first-time visitor, Daniel is allowed to select one book to protect forever. He chooses a book called *The Shadow of the Wind* by author Julian Carax.

Daniel reads the book in a single night. Fascinated by the author’s style, Daniel goes to famous bookseller Barcelo to find more works by Carax. Barcelo says that Daniel’s copy of *The Shadow of the Wind* is the last one in print and that the rest have been burned. Barcelo introduces Daniel to his 20-year-old niece, Clara, who is an expert on Julian Carax’s books, despite being blind and unable to read them directly.

Clara tells Daniel that Carax’s books are almost impossible to find and that there are rumors that a man is hunting down all the copies of his books and intentionally burning them. That night, Daniel sees a stranger in dark clothes smoking a cigarette. The stranger’s face is obscured, but he seems to be watching Daniel before he finishes his cigarette and limps away. Daniel feels frightened because in *The Shadow of the Wind,* the same scene is described. In Carax’s novel, the dark figure is named Lain Coubert and is the Devil personified.

Daniel falls in love with Clara and passes the summer in her company, going to Barcelo’s house to read aloud to her every day. They grow closer and closer. By the time Daniel turns 14, he is so in love with Clara that her presence tortures him. For his 16th birthday, he plans a party for himself and decides to invite Clara, Barcelo and Barcelo’s maid, Bernarda, who has become like a second mother to him.

None of them come to his party, causing Daniel extreme pain. He wanders the city until the dark stranger from years before surprises him by addressing him by name. The stranger wants to buy the *The Shadow of the Wind* from Daniel, but Daniel has already given the book to Clara. The stranger reveals that he goes around Europe finding Carax’s books and burns them individually. The man’s face is burned black with no nose, lips or eyelids.

Terrified that the stranger will try to find Clara, Daniel goes to Barcelo’s house and removes *The Shadow of the Wind* from the library. When he visits Clara, he finds her having sex with her piano instructor, Adrian Neri. Enraged at being discovered, Neri punches Daniel in the face and stomach, threatening him with a worse beating if he ever speaks to Clara again.

On the way home, Daniel makes friends with a beggar named Fermin, who used to work for the secret service. Daniel wants to return the book to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for safekeeping. Isaac, the keeper of the Cemetery, tells Daniel that the stranger’s name is Lain Coubert.

Fermin begins working in Daniel’s father’s bookshop, and a few more years pass. Daniel becomes reacquainted with Bea, the sister of his childhood best friend, and the two form a romantic connection. Daniel is threatened by a police inspector named Fumero, who is an old enemy of Fermin’s. Fumero tortured Fermin during the Spanish Civil War, killed Clara’s father in prison, and also has a bitter history with Julian Carax himself.

Daniel learns that Julian Carax’s father, Fortuny, wasn’t Julian’s real father, and that teenage Julian was deeply in love with a girl named Penelope Aldaya, who seems to have vanished from the world. Fermin and Daniel go to see a priest who used to be a schoolmate of Carax’s. They learn that Inspector Fumero was also a classmate and friend of Carax and that he was obsessed with Carax’s sweetheart, Penelope, and attempted to shoot Carax out of jealousy.

Daniel and Fumero manage to find Jacinta, Penelope’s childhood nursemaid and confidante, who recounts Penelope and Julian’s tragic story, how they became lovers as teenagers and how they planned to run away together to Paris. Penelope’s mother caught them having sex, and Penelope’s father, Don Ricardo Aldaya, had Julian expelled from school. Penelope never showed up to join Julian on the train to Paris, and the two apparently died separately, though the circumstances of their deaths are still unclear.

Daniel and Bea go to the old abandoned Aldaya house for a romantic meeting, and they discover two hidden coffins, one marked with Penelope’s name. Daniel also sees Lain Coubert in the house before he and Bea manage to run away. Bea doesn’t contact Daniel for a few days, and he discovers that her angry father knows she’s been sneaking around with a boy, so he locked her in her home.

Daniel hears that his acquaintance Nuria, an old girlfriend of Carax’s, has been murdered by Fermin. Although Daniel knows Fermin is innocent, the murder was planned by Fumero as a way to find Julian, who is probably still alive somewhere.

Nuria’s father, Isaac, caretaker of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, gives Daniel a long letter from Nuria, explaining her past romance with Julian. She worked for a publisher that printed Julian’s books, and she had a brief affair with him, which was doomed to failure because he was still in love with Penelope. Nuria married Julian’s childhood friend Miquel, who eventually told her the truth about Julian’s past.

Penelope’s father, Don Ricardo Aldaya, had an affair with Julian’s mother long ago, which meant that Julian and Penelope were actually brother and sister. When Don Ricardo discovered that Penelope and Julian had slept together, he locked Penelope in an attic where she remained without medical attention, until she died after giving birth to a stillborn baby. Miquel never told Julian the truth, hoping he would make a decent life for himself in Paris.

Miquel contracted tuberculosis, and as he was slowly dying, Julian returned to Barcelona to learn the truth about Penelope, who he believed married another man. Miquel knew that Fumero was hatching a complex plan to murder Julian, so he switched documents with Julian and died in a gunfight with Fumero’s corrupt police.

Julian insisted on visiting the old Aldaya house with Nuria. When he discovered the coffins holding Penelope and his stillborn son and realized that they been dead for almost two decades, he decided to erase his identity, most of which was bound up in his novels. He began calling himself Lain Coubert and devoted himself to finding and destroying his own novels. He set fire to a warehouse full of his books and nearly died in the blaze, which disfigured him.

Nuria cared for Julian for a few years and was surprised when he took a great interest in Daniel, the owner of the last copy of *The Shadow of the Wind* in Barcelona. Julian felt a deep tenderness for Daniel and silently observed his life from afar, as if he were Julian’s own son who never had a chance to live.

Nuria ends her long posthumous letter to Daniel by asking him to remember her. Inspired by the tragedy of so many ruined lives, Daniel goes to Bea’s house to meet her, but learns from her brother that she’s pregnant and that she has run away from home. Daniel finds Bea taking refuge in the old Aldaya house, where Julian has been taking care of her.

Fumero follows Daniel to the Aldaya house, knowing that his old nemesis, Julian, must be waiting. Fumero threatens to kill Daniel, and Julian attacks him. The two fight, and Julian tells Daniel to flee with Bea and protect her with his life. Daniel disobeys, jumping in the way of a bullet Fumero shoots at Julian. Julian then kills Fumero in revenge for hurting Daniel.

Daniel makes a full recovery. Julian secretly comes to visit him in the hospital and holds his hand, seeming to ask Daniel to live well, for his sake. Daniel and Bea marry, and 10 years later, they live happily in his father’s bookshop, running a modest business and raising their son, also named Julian in honor of his father’s favorite novelist.

Daniel receives a manuscript in the mail. The package is a new book written by Julian Carax and dedicated to him, Daniel. Shortly thereafter, Daniel takes one of his sons to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books to select his own book.

Christian Beliefs

Daniel worries that his mother might be lonely in heaven, but his father assures him that she’s not lonely with God. Barcelo’s housemaid, Bernarda, is a devout Catholic, attending Mass daily and going to confession several times a week.

Fortuny is superstitiously obsessed with crucifixes and hangs them all over his home. Merceditas says that people in Spain need to actually pay attention to the words of Jesus Christ and live them out, instead of merely attending Mass.

Other Belief Systems

Barcelo is an agnostic. Fermin is an atheist. Jausa, the former owner of the Aldaya home, had a foreign mistress who was obsessed with the occult and who apparently murdered Jausa’s wife before killing herself. Mysterious incidents continue to haunt the house for years, tormenting the Aldaya family.

Jacinta has strange dreams of an angel or demon named Zacharias, who predicts terrible things about her family’s history or who tells her that she will have a child. She sees Penelope Aldaya as the child who was promised to her.

Authority Roles

Daniel’s mother passed away when he was 4 years old, and her absence is felt deeply by Daniel and his father. At night, 10-year-old Daniel still talks out loud to his deceased mother because he misses her.

Daniel’s father initiates his son into the world of bookkeeping in a wise and affectionate way, opening a world of wonder to his son. Their relationship grows distant in Daniel’s early teens, only to improve after Daniel realizes his father deeply cares for him.

Don Ricardo Aldaya is a dictatorial father, locking his pregnant daughter in the attic. He ensures her death by allowing her to give birth with no medical attention.

Profanity & Violence

The following profanity is used: a–, h—, d–n, b–ch, the f-word and sh–.

Adrian Neri punches Daniel in the face and stomach, drawing blood by cutting him with the ring on his hand. Fumero kicks and beats Fermin, until Fermin’s face is bloodied. Don Ricardo Aldaya slaps his wife, Sophie, until her ears bleed. Later, he beats his pregnant, teenage daughter severely. On several occasions, Fortuny beats Sophie until she’s hospitalized.

Miquel shoots two police officers, killing them. The scene is described in detail. Julian stabs a dagger through Fumero’s wrist, pinning him to the wall. Julian and Fumero fight. Julian tells Daniel to flee with Bea and protect her with his life, but Daniel disobeys, jumping in the way of a bullet Fumero shoots at Julian. Julian then kills Fumero in revenge for hurting Daniel. He impales Fumero on the arm of an angel statue.

Sexual Content

At age 10, Daniel falls in love with Clara, age 20, and is troubled by his deep romantic feelings for her. Clara’s former tutor was known for being a regular customer of a Parisian prostitute. At age 16, Daniel walks in on Clara having sex with her piano instructor.

Julian Carax worked as a piano player in a brothel. He and Nuria have a sexual relationship during the two weeks that she stays with him in Paris.

Local watchmaker Don Federico is known for his sexual interest in men and for his penchant for crossdressing. He is arrested for starring in a drag show where the male attendees strip down and dance naked. Don Federico is said to have been raped in prison after his arrest. Bernarda wonders aloud whether famous film star Cary Grant is gay.

Fermin describes female bodies with great enthusiasm and makes frequent references to his sexual prowess and desires. Daniel and Bea have sex. Bea becomes pregnant. Julian and Penelope kiss passionately. They have sex, which leads to Penelope getting pregnant.

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