Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book #7: Spain

 Zorro by Isabel Allende

In my edition, 157 pages of this book are set in Spain, so I’m counting it as Spain. I love this book, and couldn’t leave it out just because I wasn’t sure where to place it.

Allende was approached to write the book by John Gertz, the man who owns the copyright to Zorro. The original Zorro appeared in 1919 in a magazine in serialised form, and was released as a movie the following year. At first Allende didn’t like the idea of writing on commission (she prefers saying she received a ‘proposition’), but she loved Zorro and was given free rein on the story so, in the end, accepted the offer.

Gracios a dios.

We get to see Diego de la Vega close up, watch him grow and take on the world as El Zorro. I always liked the movies, but movies are over so quickly and you don’t get the kind of depth you do in books. And this book is not just a movie adaptation – it is Zorro’s coming-of-age story, and Allende is filling in the blanks in the canon with her amazing story-telling.

Diego is the son of a Spanish soldier and an Indian warrior. He spends much of his childhood learning the Indian ways in the forests with Bernardo (his mute milk brother), and arrives in Spain half-wild. It is up to his father’s friend and the friend’s daughters to ‘civilise’ him, but along the way he meets gypsies and joins a circus and a secret society. It is in Spain that he begins his parallel lives, caught between the pressure to appear 'civilised' and his adventurous nature.

Everything in this book is an adventure. Diego and Bernardo take on everyone from school bullies to pirates and the dastardly Rafael Moncada, and every bit serves to build the character we know as Zorro. Allende has a lot of fun with the dramatics of Zorro (one of the best lines, on beholding Zorro: ‘Padre Mendoza laughed nervously; possibly the fellow was an escaped madman’) and the double life of Diego, who most people see as a hypochondriac fop.

The original is in Spanish (has anyone read it?) but the English translation by Margaret Sayers Peden is very very good. I've bought the book twice - I leant it to someone and never got it back (grrrr...). Had to buy another.

Oh, and I think Diego de la Vega is an awesome, awesome name.

What books set in Spain do you like?

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