You know that wonderful feeling of getting lost in a story? That book you think about even when you’re separated from the pages. That book you can’t wait to curl up with each day and get to the next part of the story. The book that makes you slow down your reading speed because you just don’t want it to end. That was Zorro for me last month. I paced myself through the first 2/3 of it. Then on my birthday, a gift to myself was to curl up on the recliner to read to the end. Then I wished I could do it all over again!
A swashbuckling adventure story that reveals for the first time how Diego de la Vega became the masked man we all know so well
Born in southern California late in the eighteenth century, he is a child of two worlds. Diego de la Vega’s father is an aristocratic Spanish military man turned landowner; his mother, a Shoshone warrior. Diego learns from his maternal grandmother, White Owl, the ways of her tribe while receiving from his father lessons in the art of fencing and in cattle branding. It is here, during Diego’s childhood, filled with mischief and adventure, that he witnesses the brutal injustices dealt Native Americans by European settlers and first feels the inner conflict of his heritage.
At the age of sixteen, Diego is sent to Barcelona for a European education. In a country chafing under the corruption of Napoleonic rule, Diego follows the example of his celebrated fencing master and joins La Justicia, a secret underground resistance movement devoted to helping the powerless and the poor. With this tumultuous period as a backdrop, Diego falls in love, saves the persecuted, and confronts for the first time a great rival who emerges from the world of privilege.
Between California and Barcelona, the New World and the Old, the persona of Zorro is formed, a great hero is born, and the legend begins. After many adventures — duels at dawn, fierce battles with pirates at sea, and impossible rescues — Diego de la Vega, a.k.a. Zorro, returns to America to reclaim the hacienda on which he was raised and to seek justice for all who cannot fight for it themselves.
Obviously, I loved the story. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised as I pretty much enjoy anything written by Isabel Allende. Also, as a child, I adored the Zorro series of the 1990s and as an adult, I enjoy exploring Latin American historical fiction. Seems to me like there was no way this book could have missed the mark. I still approached cautiously, taking in each chapter, noting the historical details, absorbing the intrigue that started to play out… and then… I was hooked, engrossed, enamored and totally obsessed with the story.
Allende’s writing style once again spoilt me. From the opening chapters her mix of fact, prose, fancy and humour hit the right notes and pull the reader into the tale. Facets of historical fact mingle with elements of compelling, believable heroes and heroines; and those are interwoven still with threads of magical realism. The combined effect is a tale that is immersive, unpredictable and rich in setting and culture. I could picture the wildness of Diego’s home in Spanish California. I felt the oppressive heat as he crossed the rivers of Panamá. I felt the cold and smelt the decay of the streets of Barcelona. I heard the sounds of merriment and the pulsating African drums played in New Orleans. With Allende’s written words, it is easy to imagine the scenes laid out on the pages.
Then there are characters who are written with such complexity you could almost believe them to be real people, and you most certainly begin to feel for them and want to know what their fates may be. Diego de la Vega himself embodies so many contradictory traits, each one developing and morphing with the passage of time. Even as he grows older he maintains an almost childlike wonder for the extraordinary and an unshakeable desire for justice and adventure too. He’s blessed also with the type of charisma that draws loyal friends and begrudging respect even from enemies. Add to that an exceptional talent for fencing and remarkable physical prowess and it is not hard to understand how the legend of Zorro comes to be. But the heart of Diego and the aspect that really makes Zorro a hero is his devotion to his Shoshone heritage and the indigenous of his homeland. He learns the ways of his tribe from his maternal grandmother and he shares his mother’s fierce warrior spirit. As the son of a, distinguished but just, Spanish aristocrat, he harbors no illusions that he could ever revoke the chains of European colonialism. However, he will avenge as many wrongs as he can and protect those who cannot fend for themselves.
Other than Diego himself, a favourite part of this story for me is our protagonist’s friendship, brotherhood really, with Bernardo. The two are called milk brothers because they were born in the same week and nursed from the same mother as Diego’s almost died in childbirth and was too weak to care for him. No one outside the tribe from which both their mothers belonged would ever understand how the Indian boy with brick-coloured skin could be claimed as a brother by the dark-haired but fair-skinned son of Pueblo’s alcalde. While in public, many assume their relationship to be one of master and servant. In private, the bonds of respect, brotherly love and shared heritage allow them to treat each other as equals, and each would willingly die to save the other. In fact, during their many adventures together, more than once do they risk their lives for each other. Neither ever expects gratitude though, it’s simply what must be done. Where Diego is charismatic and daring, Bernardo is silent (the result of a childhood trauma) and contemplative. He is Diego’s conscience and voice of reason. He is also a key force in the creation and perpetuation of the Zorro legend.
This story is so much more. I’ve already written over seven hundred words and I still haven’t even gotten into Diego and Bernardo’s friends and adventures in Barcelona! Suffice to say, every page brings new drama and excitement. I was never once bored while reading this tale and could only wish for more stories. This book is the telling of how Diego de la Vega grew up and why he became Zorro. Hopefully I can find another wonderful book that details his many adventures once he returned to his homeland and set about righting the many wrongs he uncovered there.
I loved this story and give Zorro 5/5 audacious espresso shots.