"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Book Review: Zorro by Isabel Allende

Did you ever come to the end of a book and wish it would just go on and on because it's so wonderful you don't want it to end? A book like that is worth its weight in gold, and I found one: it's Zorro by Isabel Allende. The text is beautifully translated from Spanish and it's so easy to read that the pages seem to turn themselves.

Because of the familiar "Zorro" persona, from both the late-1950s TV image of Disney's handsome Guy Williams and the more recent movie image of the yummy Antonio Banderas, I thought the book would be more romantic -- you know, handsome hunk in a mask kissing a lot of beautiful, swooning ladies. Well, it isn't that, and I didn't miss it at all. But it is a real swashbuckler, with lots of action, and it's amazing fun.

This is the prequel to the story of the dashing swordsman who fought for justice in early California. Although that legend was long established before Allende came along, her work adds the perfectly fitted pieces to the classic puzzle that is the Zorro legend -- his boyhood, his education and his motivation. I think it will become an adventure classic for adults and kids alike.

The story starts with the meeting of Diego de la Vega's parents and his birth in 1795. It ends with his first acts as the mysterious caped avenger. In between, we travel with him from California to Europe and we meet American Indians, Gypsies, sailors, pirates and aristocrats. We see how Young Diego and his lifelong friend, Bernardo, learn the principles of justice from horrifying acts of prejudice they witness as children and government corruption they are subject to as adults. We learn why Bernardo doesn't speak, how Diego took the name Zorro, and what the governmental factors were that drove him to his destiny.

We see how he picks up his skills -- fencing, horse riding, acrobatics, illusion -- and adds to his Zorro disguise one element at a time -- a mask here, a horse there -- until he's fully prepared to fight for the downtrodden. I don't normally like fight scenes, but these drew me in right away and I followed them intently.

I found myself getting lost in the story, losing track of time. This book is absolutely captivating! An excellent, excellent read for any age.

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