Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Downloaded audio from my local library
“This novel of awesome beauty and power is a moving saga about people, relationships, and the boundaries of love. Through Jean M. Auel’s magnificent storytelling we are taken back to the dawn of modern humans, and with a girl named Ayla we are swept up in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world they shared with the ones who called themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear.I had only first heard about this book relatively recently, although it has been out for over 20 years. I wasn’t sure how I would like this book as there isn't a whole lot known about Neanderthals and Cro-magnon peoples in terms of their daily lives. Let me tell you, this book hits it out of the park! All my concerns were for nothing and this will be one of my favorite reads of 2011.
A natural disaster leaves the young girl wandering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman of the Clan, people very different from her own kind. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks peculiar and ugly--she is one of the Others, those who have moved into their ancient homeland; but Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old Mog-ur, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. But the brutal and proud youth who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority. He develops a deep and abiding hatred for the strange girl of the Others who lives in their midst, and is determined to get his revenge.”
Auel makes the very distant to us Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon come to vivid life. We get a very believable description of how they may have lived life – from the clothing they wore, to the spirits they could have believed in, the food they ate, how they hunted, and what they may have thought about each other. A vast amount of details would have to have been supplied by the author as aspects such as their belief system will likely never be known – but they felt seemless and believable.
As strong as the writing is regarding the culture and setting, the characters are where the writing shines. There is quite a large cast of main characters and even more supporting characters, however Auel constructs all into well rounded characters that you can identify and connect to. Even the supporting cast does not get pushed into the background. One way that you know you have great characters is when their actions or things that happen to them can bring you to tears – and at several points in this novel that happened to me. You can get so emotionally connected to these characters. One of the characters that I loved the most is Brun, the leader of the clan. I really enjoyed how he would weigh all of the options and really tried to do what was best for everyone.
This book has been on several Banned Books lists for one of two reasons. The first is due to its support of the idea of evolution. The second is for the sex/rape scene that occurs – and this is the one that I want to address. Auel essentially builds the idea of sex as a part of their culture into the novel from very near the beginning. She explains how it is a “normal” way of life for men to exercise their needs with women. The scene itself wasn’t very graphic and certainly not the worst I have read. It just felt natural to the way the book was written and not out of character for the setting of the story. Now I would certainly understand not wanting it to be available in say a middle school library, since the book is written for an adult audience. But I wouldn’t let the fact it might be banned stop you from reading it.
I didn’t want to put this book down and eagerly anticipated getting back in the car to listen to it – I didn’t love that it usually meant I had to be on my way to work though! Although I want to jump right into the rest of the series, I have heard mixed reviews of the other books, so I am waiting until my love for this book dies down a little bit.
The narration of the book met expectations. There was differentiation between characters and it was read at a good pace. However the voices used for the characters were a little weird, but I did get used to them. The only complaint that I have would be with the production/direction of the reading. It seemed like there were places where a pause should have been inserted, such as between sections/chapters. Sometimes it would flow right together like it was just the next paragraph but the content was so different it felt choppy. It is likely that there was a section break in the print version, but that didn’t translate to the audio version.
Auel also has written 5 other books in the series: The Valley of the Horses #2, The Mammoth Hunters #3. The Plains of Passage #4, The Shelters of Stone #5, and The Land of the Painted Caves #6. You can visit Auel’s website for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?
You can also listen to an audio excerpt of the book.
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