Thursday, September 15, 2011
City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende
Shipped off to join his grandmother on a trip to the heart of the Amazon, Alexander is out of his depth and worried about his cancer stricken mother. But after meeting Nadia, a girl who can talk with animals, he begins to experience more and more unexplainable things and becomes fascinated by the People of the Mist, a legendary group of Indians. As the group looks for a mythical creature known as the Beast, Nadia and Alexander begin to suspect someone is trying to harm the Indians. When they are kidnapped, the two begin a mystical quest to come of age.
Genre: contemporary, supernatural
While this book isn't exactly action packed, it is very enjoyable. Allende weaves the plausible with the mystical and addresses real issues of coming of age. Perhaps the biggest flaw is some of the situations are unbelievable (a teenager being allowed in a delicate mission into the Amazon?), but then there was also a good deal of the supernatural and existential in the book, which makes the areas fuzzy. The characterizations are alternately charming and over the top. The anthropologist on the mission is severely one dimensional and only exists to spout backwards and misinformed statements. This seems at odds with anthropologists I've known. Yet Indians are fierce and calm personalities that are alternately dangerous and fascinating. Alexander grows from a timid boy into a man in the jungle and he and Nadia effectively use their brains to thwart the wiping out of the Indians.
There's a lot going on in this novel, and for it trying to blend so many things and in such a sort of mythical way, it succeeds.