Thursday, April 30, 2009

#70 - "Zorro" by Isabel Allende

I remember seeing Zorro (2005) by Isabel Allende a long time ago on display at my favorite bookstore. My memories of the movie with Antonio Banderas had me immediately dismissing it, but then I noticed that the author was Isabel Allende. I'd read Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende and remembered being impressed by the story and the writing, but I still remembered the movie of Zorro being nothing more than silly, and I couldn't imagine what Allende could add to the character or why she would even want to tell his story. Many years went by and I always found something else to read, but then I was wandering among the books-on-cd stacks at the library and I saw Zorro again. I was happy to find a book-on-cd that I had been interested in for awhile--the books-on-cd stacks do not always offer up the largest selection. In the end, I picked up Zorro to have a book to listen to while I worked on creating and sewing my dress (haven't given up yet, but I'm not sure why I'm bothering with it), and not because it starts with a 'Z,' one of the letters I was missing, which is the other pointless project I've begun.

Zorro is the story of Diego de la Vega, a boy born into two worlds in southern California at the end of the 18th century. His father is an aristocratic Spanish military man turned rich landowner while his mother is a Shoshone warrior who met his father in battle. Diego grows up with his close friend and "brother," Bernardo, and first learns about injustice by seeing the treatment of his mother's people in California. When he is fifteen Diego, accompanied by Bernardo, is sent to Barcelona for a European education where he quickly falls head-over-heels in love with the eldest daughter of the family he's staying with, Julianna. Smart, precocious and spontaneous, Diego befriends and is taught by everyone he meets, learning all the skills he will eventually use when he becomes the hero, Zorro. Diego's passion for justice and loyalty to those he cares for brings him to his destiny, and eventually Diego returns home to California to reclaim his heritage.

I really enjoyed this book and I'm looking forward to reading more of Allende's work. Allende managed to tell a fun adventure story of a boy becoming a hero steeped in the realistic history and injustices of southern California and Spain in the early 1800's. The mysterious narrator tells the story of the making of Zorro, someone she obviously knows and admires in her life, but still aware that she's writing about a mythic figure. Reading the book you feel both that Diego is destined to become Zorro and that he would never be what he was without all the people around him. Allende balances the fun of the story and character with her sensitive treatment of the injustices surrounding minorities, women, gypsies, and others. Although a sense of invincibility surrounds him, Diego is still a three-dimensional character with weaknesses and passions. At one point the narrator states, "Diego swore he would never kiss another woman again. Of course, no one believed him." Isabel Allende took Zorro, a character I only knew from Banderas' portrayal, and gave him an origin, friendships, and a rich, historical setting that finally gave his story some meaning.

This book-on-cd was performed by Blair Brown and even though I really enjoyed her reading, I still felt like I was missing something. I'm such a visual, tactile person that seeing the words and typeface and feeling the weight of the book in my hands really makes a difference; I can't help but wonder if I would have liked Zorro more or less if I had read it myself. From now on, I think I'll only listen to easy, fluffy, entertaining books-on-cd.

1 comment:

Jen K said...

I don't know if you already had an eye on any other Allende novels you were interested in, but I'd definitely recommend The House of Spirits or Ines of My Soul. Portrait in Sepia isn't bad, either, but definitely not as good as some of her other novels - the cool thing about that one, though, is that it links characters from The House of Spirits to Daughter of Fortune, so you'd definitely want to read The House of Spirits first.