Customer Reviews: Zorro: A Novel
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Isabel Allende reinvents the character first introduced by Johnston McCulley in his "The Mark of Zorro" many years ago. Here we have a Zorro firmly planted in his own time, but relevant to our time and sensibilities. Through Allende's masterful prose, Diego de la Vega, aka Zorro, becomes a hero of flesh and bones, courageous and human. She vividly recreates him and other characters we can believe in. I found myself able to overshadow the overpowering memories of Antonio Banderas, Tyrone Power and Douglas Fairbanks in the role as I read. She also describes the landscapes and settings and makes them important characters in their own right. The story is intriguing and hard to set down when other responsibilities beckon you away and back into regular living.

More often reinterpreted on the movie screen than in literature, this book, along with a few other recent treatments of Zorro, will hopefully inspire more authors to explore this interesting character, one of the United States' own Robin Hood characters.

The novel has wide appeal, literary and well-written for those wanting a richer reading experience while exciting and heroic for those wanting a light summer read. It's a healthy reading indulgence.
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Historically, whenever and wherever oppression exists, the people who are subject to it look for a heroic figure to defend them and to punish their persecutors. Such a paladin was Robin Hood, another is the legendary Zorro. One of my favorite authors, Isabel Allende, has reached deep into her ample well of talent and brought forth a hero who is more human than demigod. She has breathed fresh life into the Zorro of myth, and gifted him with a heart, a soul, a good mind, an indomitable spirit and human fallibilities. This beautifully told tale of adventure and classical romance is chock-full of swashbuckling swordplay, ocean voyages, pirate attacks, Native American lore and rites, detailed fencing episodes, social injustice, secret underground societies, evil villains, duels at dawn, damsels in distress, unrequited love, gypsy camps, noble drawing rooms, drama, rollicking humor, vivid characters, tremendous energy...and so much more. The story's narrator is even a mystery person whose identity is not revealed until the conclusion. Ms. Allende's "Zorro" is a glorious literary adventure which will provide hours of entertainment for young and old alike.

Don Diego de la Vega was born in Alto California at the end of the 18th century to a Spanish aristocrat, and the daughter of a Shoshone shaman and a Hispanic soldier turned deserter. Diego is raised alongside Bernardo, the son of his Indian wet nurse, and the two milk brothers remain inseparable throughout their lives. Although born into privilege, Diego becomes aware of social injustice at a very early age because of his mestizo blood and his bonds of friendship and brotherhood with Bernardo. European settlers continually perpetrate acts of violence against the Native American population and the two boys are helpless to come to the defense of their people.

The two receive a multi-faceted education. The Shoshone teach them how to hunt and fight like Indian braves. White Owl, the shaman and Diego's grandmother, instructs them in indigenous lore, sends them on individual quests for a vision and their totems, and brings them through the rites of manhood. After a fox saves Diego's life, the small animal, el zorro, becomes his emblematic animal. White Owl tells him, "Zorro is your totemic animal, your spiritual guide. . . You must cultivate its skill, its cleverness, its intelligence." Don Alejandro de la Vega gives his son lessons appropriate to a young Spanish grandee, including fencing, and instructs him about all things necessary to run their enormous rancho. Whatever Diego is taught, he passes on to Bernardo. The first part of the novel is about life and politics in California, Mexico, and Europe during the Napoleonic Wars, along with vignettes of the events and traumas which touch and effect the lives of the boys, and their families, as they move into adolescence.

Diego is sent to Barcelona to receive a noble's education, like that of his Spanish ancestors. Bernardo accompanies him, as a servant, even though he is no such thing. They stay with a close friend of de la Vega's, a Francophile, Tomas de Romeu, who has two daughters, the beautiful Juliana, and the spunky, younger, cross-eyed Isabel. The girls and their duena Nuria, are to play important roles in this tale. All of Spain is under Napoleon's control and the Spanish are rebelling. Guerilla fighters attack the French forces everywhere. Meanwhile, Diego enrolls in the School of Humanities, and is mentored by the famous fencing master, Maestro Manuel Escalante, who literally wrote the definitive manual on the art of swordplay. Escalante recruits Diego into the secret society, Justicia, whose members' are pledged, "To seek justice, nourish the hungry, clothe the naked, protect widows and orphans, give shelter to the stranger and never spill innocent blood." It is in Barcelona that the revolutionary character Zorro is born.

The novel's final chapters deal with the return of Diego, Bernardo, their traveling companions, and Zorro. And in Alto California, Zorro confronts his enemies at last, the homegrown kind and those who have pursued him from abroad.

As always, Isabel Allende's narrative is a delight to read. Her descriptive passages bring to life the local color, sounds and smells of Indian villages, the hacienda, the California countryside, Barcelona, gypsy camps, the sea, and a pirates' island. Her characters brim with life. "Zorro: A Novel" is better than the stuff of legend and a book I highly recommend for an adventure-packed read.
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Isabel Allende's enchanting new novel, "Zorro," traces the origins of the legendary folk hero, who evolved from a privileged and foolish young man into an intrepid warrior. Zorro's mission was to use his wits, agility, and formidable fighting skills to defend the poor and downtrodden in early nineteenth century Spain and California. Allende laces her narrative liberally with humor, irony, wit, and dozens of colorful characters.

The story begins with the birth of Zorro's alter ego, Diego de la Vega, in Alta California. We follow Diego to Barcelona, Spain, where he changes from a playful and callow youth into a passionate young man. The author enlivens her story with intrigue, sword fights, romance, treachery, adventures on the high seas, prison breaks, and fascinating historical background about the relationship between the Native Americans, the Spaniards, the French, and the Catholic Church during those turbulent times. There is never a dull moment in this nearly four hundred page book, and the translation from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden is excellent.

Without compromising the spirit of fun that permeates her tale, Allende makes it clear that the Indians in North America were victims of genocide. The Spanish conquerors came to the New World, greedy for land and treasure, and they murdered the Indians, burned their villages, and enslaved those who survived. Allende creates a number of unforgettable Native American characters. Bernardo, Diego's devoted "milk brother," becomes mute after his mother is brutally assaulted; White Owl, Diego's grandmother, is a respected shaman and medicinal healer who teaches her grandson to be faithful to his spiritual guide, the fox; and Toypurnia, Diego's mother, is a fierce warrior who cannot be tamed, even by the love of the handsome hidalgo, Alejandro de la Vega.

"Zorro" works so well because Allende goes back to storytelling basics. She puts interesting people in exotic settings, and she has them contend with nasty villains who will stop at nothing to get what they want. Finally, she features a brave, albeit flawed hero, who risks his life, with panache and style, to fight for justice. If this sounds like a Spanish "Star Wars," that's not far off the mark. Although the characters, the setting, and the time frames may vary, well-told stories about the battle of good versus evil will always find a place in people's hearts.
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on May 23, 2005
This is the first time that I have read anything by Isabel Allende. Initially, her narrative style put me off a bit. I'm used to a lot on dialogue that describes the situations rather than a lot of narration telling me what is happening. HOWEVER, within a couple of chapters, I was completely pulled into the story by Isabel Allende's tremendous ability to invite her reader into the world that she so adroitly creates. I found myself smiling as each piece of the puzzle that makes up the story I know so well fell into place. Allende allows her readers to observe young Diego De La Vega as each of his skills, personality traits and burning desires snap neatly into place. None of the characters motivations are left to chance, which makes for wonderful story telling.

Her detailed descriptions of early California, Barcelona and Panama make the reader believe that Alende actually has seen and experienced the 18th century world that she describes. Also, she pulls no punches when it comes to her description of the indians and their mistreatment by early European aristocrats. The deep rifts between the upper class and lower class that is currently still in place in Mexico is made clear.

Although the world of 18th century California is detailed, this story is character driven. Diego De La Vega (Zorro) is an extremely three dimensional character that runs the gamit of human emotion and Allende allows her readers to see his flaws as well as his attributes (as is so often true, the two are one and the same). Bernardo, who in previous incarnations of the Zorro story is a typical "sidekick", is anything but a "sidekick" in this novel. Bernardo is a complex, spiritual young man that in many ways is the moral superior of Diego. He is a brother, but also a wise guide, keeping the brash young man on his life's path. Rather than serving Diego because he is of "higher" caste, Bernardo serves out of love and a deep sense of destiny. In Yogic terms, these two men have found their darma, their purpose in life.

"Zorro" is an interesting look at the legend as well as a wonderful, non-judgmental description of a world of the near past. "Zorro" is fiction, but Allende fills this story with historical fact as well clever analysis of the ramifications of many of the political decisions made at the time. Every dollar you spend on this one is an investment in thought and entertainment.
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on May 16, 2005
A very different book for Ms. Allende. Based on the fictitious, though widely known, legend of Zorro, Ms. Allende creates a character that we get to know so well, his unusual childhood, his doubts, ambitions and thirst for justice that one has to stop to realize that this is not a biography!! Diego de la Vega's father is a Spanish officer and his mother a Shoshone Indian. He eventually is sent to Spain for a European upbringing and education.

Characters are described in depth and are an incredible mix of Indians with their legends and beliefs, his "milk brother" Bernardo whom he is fiercely bonded to, radicals fighting for justice for the poor in Spain, a fencing master who teaches Diego everything he knows and a woman whose love he cannot have.

I think the weakest part of this book is the first third, unfortunately, as the reader must have the desire to "stick through" the first 100 pages or so; but once they do will be nicely rewarded.

A great book for anyone who loves an adventure; particularly those who grew up in the 50's and watched the TV series and/or has a fascination for this character.
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HALL OF FAMEon May 18, 2005
I never read The Mark of Zorro, but if the original was anywhere near as good as this recreation, then I look forward to reading it some time in the future. Allende takes the reader into an enriching journey full of precise history and keen storytelling with Diego de la Vega -- a man torn between the customs of his heritage and doing the right thing. We see how Diego grows up in a somewhat corrupt society in which Europeans torture and abuse Native Americans. He starts off by joining a group called La Justicia, a group of Robin Hood types who help the poor. And through various adventures and turns of history, Diego becomes el Zorro -- a legendary hero that we will not soon forget...

As said earlier, I have not read The Mark of Zorro and therefore cannot compare that book with this one. However, this novel is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Isabel Allende has been one of my favorite novelists for as long as I can remember and she has done a wonderful job with this novel. Zorro is a bit of a change from her usual work, but the different angle in her standard writing style is a welcome one. The most impressive part of this novel is the historical reference. Her descriptions of European landscapes and architecture and customs are vivid and breathtaking. We also get a lot of subplots centered on the times in which French military commander Napoleon Bonaparte ruled and corrupted a major part of Europe. All of the aforementioned things make for a literary, enlightening read. I only wish I had taken the incentive of reading the original Spanish version, for I am sure that many things were lost in the translation. Alas, it is difficult to write a summary without giving away important details or spoilers, which is why I have made mine brief. I simply suggest that you get this book and savor its pages like fine wine because historical novels based on legendary heroes don't get better than this!
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HALL OF FAMEon August 17, 2005
Isabel Allende's skill as a storyteller is once again demonstrated in this never-dull and always fascinating adventure story based on the legend that has long intrigued many writers and thousands of filmgoers through the years. This is a story of the fight for good over evil in the person of a masked man dressed all in black who fought for justice in the early days of Spanish California.

Most of this book is about Zorro's early years, and Allende has used her imagination and literary skill well. The basic legend makes him the son of a wealthy Spanish landowner but Allende went further than that in her narrative. She makes his mother a half-breed Indian warrior, and she has him spend his early manhood in Spain, where he learns to fence, meets up with gypsies and falls in love. There are violent politics going on all around him too. There's Napoleon's occupation of Spain, and then the violent hand of the inquisition after Napoleon's defeat. Injustices and villains are everywhere. But there is never a doubt that Zorro will try to change that. As a boy he sees the injustices against the Indians in California. Later, he sees the injustices of the slave trade. These are horrible wrongs. But Zorro fights for justice.

There are no subtleties in this book. Everything is right or wrong, good or evil. There is also no doubt that Zorro will survive victorious from his many adventures. And so I just sat back and let the narrative take me where I knew it would go. I let myself be carried along with the story and became Zorro myself, a young man of great athleticism, physical strength and high intelligence. His motives are always for the good of all and there is no doubt he will be victorious.

A book like this is a big departure for me. I usually like nuances of emotion and books that have no easy answers. But once in a while it is completely refreshing to let myself get caught up in an adventure story. Isabel Allende is a master of her craft and doesn't waste a word. It's great escape fiction that's fun to read and easy to follow. I could open the book and read for ten minutes and know that those ten minutes would be a welcome change from whatever I was doing at the time.

This is not great literature. The words are simple. The story is straightforward. I winced at the horrors of the time and yet found them fascinating. And, I also knew that Zorro would somehow find a way to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This was a great read. And definitely recommended.
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on September 20, 2005
You should know two things before you start reading this book. First, Isabel Allende's memories of Zorro are of the Disney version. There is a Bernardo in her book, but Tyrone Power did not have a Bernardo backing him up in the movie - but then again, neither Power nor Guy Williams (the TV Zorro) had an Isabel or a Lolita as a love interest.

Second, while this is an extremely good novel, don't read it with the expectation that it's similar in any way to any of Allende's other books. "Zorro" is completely unlike anything else she has ever written. The other Allende novels I've read have been more similar to, say, Gabriel Garcia Marquez in tone and plot, although Allende's other novels never had the mysticism of Garcia Marquez's wonderful tales.

For this book, Allende has gone off in a completely different and enchanting direction. Where she borrows from the known Zorro legend, she borrows accurately - the characters of, for example, Moncada and Garcia were completely accurate, and I could picture them in my head as they were in the TV series. Where she goes off on her own, her story is totally believable and logical.

I find myself hoping that Allende will write a sequel, but I know that it will never happen. I do hope, though, that this book will bring about a resurgence of interest in Zorro.
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VINE VOICEon November 8, 2005
In the 1960's, a sociologist claimed that many first and second generation youths found themselves caught between the U.S. culture and the culture of their family's origin. The sociologist referred to this person as a "marginal man." That is, the person was unable to integrate fully into either culture and this cultural confusion affected the person's psychic development.

Allende's resurrection of the Zorro classic, intentionally or not, uses this theme of marginalization to explain the personality of Diego de la Vega, who was to become known as Zorro (the fox).

De la Vega was born from a strong Indian mother and a proud Spanish father. Each were passionate warriors. Neither parent could completely accept the other's culture and this polarized upbringing is passed on to their only child. The hero of our story is not emotionally crippled by the family dynamics, but the cultural factors explain the hero's character as noted in the book's short epilogue.

As to the story, the author is loyal to the original story lines, but gives the various characters much more depth. Zorro's mother is not an ornament and his friend Bernardo is not just a silent sidekick. The women and Native Americans are refreshingly strong and intelligent. The author also gives historical context to the story that was interesting without being burdensome to the reader. My only criticism is that the second person narration was sometimes tiresome, but this was minor and probably only a matter of my taste as opposed to most other readers. For an intelligently written adventure story, the reader could do little better than Zorro.
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on November 12, 2005
Zorro has recently emerged as a popular figure. Antonio Banderas portrayed him in 1998's "The Mask of Zorro" and in its recently released sequel. There is also the classic TV Zorro from the 50's and 60's whose character is etched in our minds. This Zorro, is however, Chilean author Allende's creation. Zorro here is a historical figure, though his life does indeed border on artificial operatic adventures. However, far from being pulp fiction, it is well-written story, graphically realistic and accurate to its time period. It is set in old California, back when it was Mexican-owned land. Despite the historic elements, it never never becomes dull or a history lesson. The engaging adventure is composed of thrilling swordfights, oceanic voyaes, pirates (Yes, pirates), Native American culture, romance, and heroism. The 18th century milieu is wonderfully realistic, complete with social mores and drawing room etiquette, courtly behavior. The villains are the villains we love to hate and the heroes are the kind we root for and dream of becoming ourselves. Zorro is also a bit of a mystery in some portions. This is a great book and I'm surprised at how different it is from Allende's magic realist/human dramas.
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