Saturday 1 November 2008

Book Review: Isabel Allende – Zorro

Long-Suffering Sister introduced me to Isabel Allende and I find that she is rarely emphatic about a book, so I thought this author would be worth checking out. Although Allende is famous for “House of Spirits”, her writing has not really registered on my radar and I had no expectations except for the hope that this wasn’t the usual bodice-busting historical drama I avoid or a dry western.

I was in for a surprise. The story is the well-known legend of Zorro, the masked hero who has promised to fight against injustice wherever he finds it and begins some years before he is even born. This book charts the childhood of Diego de la Vega of as the son of a Shoshone warrior and a wealthy aristocratic Spaniard and his adolescence in Spain learning the ways of a caballero, or gentleman. We witness de la Vega fall deeply in unrequited love, honour the friendship of his milk-brother and go through the rites a young man must face as well as discovering his alter-ego Zorro and finding the purpose of his life.

The themes and topics covered in this book are so diverse and rich that every page is a treat. From Los Angeles in the nineteenth century to Spain during the Franco-Spain war, through a colonial Cuba to a seedy and louche New Orleans and onto the high seas. Yes this is a swash-buckler, with our hero fighting the Spanish Army, corrupt officials, pirates and love rivals, but it has a strong streak of social awareness running through it. Both Zorro and the narrator have a strong sense of humour which often made me smile, but the book is not entirely light-hearted – we witness the suffering of slaves, the massacre of Indian tribes, the mistreatment of political prisoners and the powerlessness and vulnerability of the women of this period.

The sheer variety of subjects Allende throws in with both skill and knowledge is astonishing: fencing, rainforests, colonialism, piracy, race and identity, gypsies, political intrigue, secret societies, secret passage-ways, native rites of passage, conjurer’s tricks, fake maps, pearl-diving, fortresses, pilgrimages…I haven’t even started. All of this at a break-neck pace.

The only criticism might be from some-one who is looking for a more traditional gung-ho boys book so often touches on issues the original stories would not have gone near – the way people of mixed race or other races are treated (although de la Vega is spared this – the stunningly beautiful women of New Orleans are labelled Mulatto and considered inferior to the white women), the way women are treated by society, especially if they are poor. This is quite a long read, but a well-written and immensely enjoyable one which gives you no chance of getting bored (looks like Long-Suffering Sister has come a long way from her previous fare of Sweet Valley High books - she'll kill me for mentioning that).


  1. As-salaamu'alaykum wa Rahmatu Llahi wa Barakatuhu my dearest sister,

    Sounds all so interesting! :D Jazaki'Allahu khair for sharing, I've added it to my to-read list, insha'Allah one of these days I'll get to it.

    Wa'alaykum as-salaam
    Love Farhana

  2. Salaam Alaikum,

    I keep meaning to read more of her books. I've only read one so far (Paula) and I just find them so vivid and enchanting.

    I will add them to my pre-baby readathon list.

  3. Assalam-alaikam Sister Farhana,
    I definitely reccommend this, I really enjoyed it.

    Assalam-alaikam Sister Safiya,
    I have heard her other books are good, I am going to see what else I can find at the library. My sister has Ines Of My Soul and I hear that Paula is one of her best.

  4. excuse me!!! i never read sweet valley high -how insulting!!

    anyway i do read good lit books -we prob just don't always have the same taste in books-glad you enjoyed it though -you should read Dune -thats' really good too

  5. As-salaamu'alaykum wa Rahmatu Llahi wa Barakatuhu my dearest sister,

    Back to let you know I finished the book! AlhumduliLlah. I enjoyed the story, - although I must admit, half way I wasn't sure if I should continue - glad I did!

    Thank you for letting us know about it. :D Look forward to reading your other reviews.

    Wa'alaykum as-salaam
    Love Farhana

  6. The story of Zorro was originally taken from the Companions of The Prophet (PBUH): His name was (R.A.).... He had a black horse and dressed in black( no mask). He was given covert single missions.
    I learn about it in a Seminar Al Maghrib.... Please look into it. I wouldn't mislead anyone

  7. Asalamu Aleikum! Please look at 'Mercy of Allah needed'
    Zorro was originally depicted from Spanish History (which is influenced by Islam 70% approximately).
    His name is Muhammed b. Maslamah and he did have a cape, but no mask. It's based on this Companion of Our Prophet (PBUH).
    Tall, dark and very powerful. He had a Lebron James Stature. He was amongst the ten who shielded Muhammed SAW in battle.
    I will be posting his Story on my Instagram page: Mercy_of_Allah_needed. Please check it out. Barakallah

    1. Walaikam-assalam Sister,
      you have me fascinated, I had no idea that Zorro was based on this great Sahabah (RA). I know Muhammed ibn Maslamah was known as the "Knight of the Prophet" and participateed in many battles.
      I am looking forward to seeing your instagram post when it is up insh'Allah.