Friday, 3 June 2011

Zorro by Isabel Allende

This is Isabel Allende's take on the story of Diego de la Vega, better known as Zorro. The character was first created in the early 20th century for a pulp fiction novel. Since then of course he has appeared in other books and in films and on tv. Rather than concentrate on his later life, Allende imagines his childhood and the events that turned Diego into Zorro.

The story starts in California in 1790 with the meeting of Diego's parents. His father, Captain Alejandro de la Vega, is an aristocratic Spaniard, and his mother Toypurnia is a Shoshone warrior. They first meet when Toypurnia leads an attack on the local Catholic Mission. Diego is torn between the two cultures. He loves and respects his father, and is good friends with Padre Mendoza, the priest in charge of the Mission. His day to day life and his outward appearance is that of the son of a Spanish nobleman. At the same time he is fascinated by the culture of his mother's tribe, and is particularly close to his grandmother White Owl, who is a healer and shaman.

A confident and adventurous boy, Diego pesters his father to send him to Spain to continue his education. It is in Barcelona that he hones his fencing skills, studying with the master Manuel Escalante. It is a turbulent time in Europe with the army of Napoleon on the march, and occupying Spain. The politics there are far more nuanced there than they were in California and it is very easy to get into trouble without meaning to. Diego sees some good people have their lives ruined by a careless word, or inadvertently offending the wrong person. Through Escalante he is inducted into La Justicia, a secret society which fights for the rights of the powerless.

Also in Barcelona he falls in love with the beautiful Juliana de Romeu. His rival for her affections, Rafael Moncada, becomes his first enemy, they fight a duel, both emerge unscathed, but with a burning hatred for each other which will ignite again back in California.

I thought this was a great adventure story. It's colourful and fast. The story never drags. There are darker moments in amongst the swashbuckling: the pirates attack on the de la Vega hacienda is brutal and terrifying, and the treatment of Toypurnia's people at the hands of the colonisers is heartbreaking. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it.


  1. I've read far too little Allende and although I'm not sure this book is for me, thank you for reminding me that I should go back and look at some of her other works.

  2. Annie - I haven't read any other Allende either, though I intend to, and some other Latin American authors too. I'm quite attracted by the magical realism thing.