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Thursday, February 01, 2007

THE Z THAT STANDS FOR ZORRO!




“Out of the night when the full moon is bright comes the horseman known as Zorro….” Remember Guy Williams and his magnificent stallion Tornado? Remember fat Sergeant Garcia who always needed a shave? If you do, you’ll want to read Isabel Allende’s Zorro, the delightful, adventuresome history of Diego de la Vega and how he became the legendary Zorro the Fox.

If you’re newer to the Zorro tale, perhaps through the recent movies, or even if you’ve never heard of this Californian who fought for justice—not only with remarkable skill and stealth but also with cunning—now is the time to get acquainted with this exciting hero.

The tale begins in 1790 at the San Gabriel mission in Alta California when Captain Alejandro de la Vega becomes enthralled with a wild warrior Indian woman, Toypurnia. These two are destined to become Diego’s parents, but don’t think for a minute that there is anything usual about their relationship or about Diego’s birth or childhood. But I cannot give this story away.

Allende relates a passionate, often funny and suspenseful tale, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, interweaving Diego’s development of skills, ideals, and purpose with California history. She does not hesitate to show the brutality with which the Spanish treated the Indians, robbing them of their way of life while exploiting them. The brutality, of course, extends to all those who resist or question their power. These events give Diego purpose, for he cannot bear to see the injustices perpetrated against those who cannot protect themselves. For him honor means fighting for fairness.

As Diego grows up, he crosses paths with Indian shamans, brave sea captains, pirates like Jean Lafitte, and evil Spanish officials who steal California’s pearls, not for Spain but for themselves and promise death to those who oppose them.

Diego learns of secret societies, meets and lives with gypsies, and educates himself in every way to enable him to fight for right. All these encounters with people and events provide Isabel Allende the means to add action and suspense throughout her tale of this dashingly romantic masked crusader. As Diego fights or loves or learns from those around him, he takes us with him, and the book is difficult to put down.

Through all his adventures, Diego is not alone. Always there, telepathically if not physically, is his faithful boyhood friend, closer to him than a blood brother, Bernardo. They are joined by the de Romeu sisters when Diego studies in Spain and lives at their father’ home.

If you are familiar with Isabel Allende’s earlier work, The House of Spirits, you will have seen her reflecting the Spanish culture in the earlier moments of the “new world.” Enjoy the trip into the past with her, and let your imagination go wild as Zorro makes the sign of the Z.
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