Zorro, Isabel Allende, HarperCollins Publishers, 2005, 390 pp
As usual, after I finish a year and chapter of "Reading For My Life," I like to catch up on current books. When I am not reading a novel from the past (right now I am finishing up the novels for 1951), I try to work away at that ever growing TO BE READ pile. I am also in four reading groups and sometimes read stuff I would not otherwise read. This is a good thing because I discover new authors to love, but also a bad thing if the books are stupid. Sometimes they are, though I put up with it because it is such a relief to discuss books with people.
I have read all of Isabel Allende's novels and loved them all. I bought this one in hardback the minute it came out, but alas it drifted in the TBR pile until I got it picked as a read at one of my reading groups. Allende was approached by the owners of the copyright to the name Zorro and asked to write the story of how the man became Zorro. I was a big Zorro fan as a kid and never missed the TV series, so I am glad she accepted the challenge.
It was a good read. At first I couldn't quite comprehend what she was doing stylistically. It was recognizable Allende with quirky characters and the influence of the spirit world. It was a superhero story with improbable plot twists and larger-than-life characters. It was historical fiction with the happenings of early California, Spain and Mexico in the 1800s. But it was emotionally off somehow, a bit dry and not fully engaged.
I was also reading The Illiad, a chapter a day, at the time, and suddenly realized that she had melded her style into the epic format. Homer did not waste time mourning the personal troubles of Achilles, Helen and Paris. He just reports the battles, the moods of the humans and the gods, and moves on. From the point of that realization, I just sank into the epic and had a good time.
There is a wonderful character in Zorro named Isabel. She loves Zorro secretly while Zorro hopelessly loves her sister. Isabel is not beautiful, she learns sword fighting and hangs out with gypsies in Spain. She is adventurous. I loved her throughout the book and in the epilogue you find out two surprising things about her which I thought were thrilling.
Allende also gets quite a bit of her uniquely feminist viewpoint into the story. The book is a tour-de-force by an author who continually challenges herself to explore new things in her writing.