Monday, December 12, 2005

Booknote: La Ciudad de las Bestias

Title: La Ciudad de las Bestias
Author: Isabel Allende
Publication Information: New York: Rayo, 2003
ISBN: 0060510323
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Subgenres: Adventure/Fantasy
406 pages

Available in translation as The City of the Beasts.

I am a fan of Allende's work, but this definitely is not her best. After close to 200 hundred pages of reading, I just could not get interested enough to go on. I always read two or three books at the same time because I like reading different things for different moods. So, when I find myself putting off one book again and again while finishing others faster, it's a sign to let it go. This is what happened to Allende's book. I started, and my reaction was "hmm, this ok, but not great, but I will give it a chance." The reading pace is pretty light, so fast readers will likely get through it fast if they find it engaging. And that was the problem for me, the book did not engage me. The first chapter is the usual set-up scene where we meet the hero, and like many other young adult novels, the hero is usually a teen going through some crisis. In this case, his mother is sick, and his father does not pay him that much attention anymore. Add to it the pesky younger sibblings, and you get the idea of been there, done that. Alexander Cold, the protagonist, is shipped off to New York to his crazy grandmother. She is just an eccentric adventurer and writer who has travelled the world. Her character is a blend of practical wisdom and cynicism that at times is endearing and at times infuriating. The adventure is a trip to the Amazon sponsored by the International Geographic to find the mysterious beast (a sort of Yeti of the Amazon). The descriptions of the Amazon and the region are very good, but the pace is only so-so. He meets a young girl, and there is a conspiracy by one of the expedition's supporters. It's just that the book feels lukewarm, and the fact that I have read much better stuff with a similar topic. The premise sounded interesting, but the novel's pacing and characters, which seem pretty much like cut-outs just did not do it for me. The novel is part of a trilogy, and based on this book, I am not likely to pick up the other two. Having said that, Isabel Allende has a pretty good track record, so I am still likely to take a chance on something else.

For young adult readers, this may be a good book if they like adventure and a little magic. There is a shaman involved and the youths find their spiritual guides. The native spirituality may be interesting to some. I found it interesting, but not enough to keep me interested. For adults, I think only Allende hardcore fans may want to read it, but they may risk disappointment. And before anyone says I am against YA books, I have read a fair number of them that I have enjoyed including Bud, Not Buddy and Cuba 15. I mentioned I have read better works on this vein, so here is my recommendation: Greg Bear's Dinosaur Summer. The setting is a world where dinosaurs live and were parts of circuses, but by the time of the novel, these circuses are no longer a novelty and are closing down. The protagonist, a young boy, goes on an expedition to return the dinosaurs of the last dino circus back to the wild. The expedition is being documented by the National Geographic. It is much better writing, good pacing, and a good tale by a solid writer that can be enjoyed by young adults as well as adults.


Anonymous said...

Soooo.. maybe spending a year on this in a University in High School Spanish course isn't as good an idea as the supervisors of the program think?

Angel, librarian and educator said...

I would say so. There are a lot of other good books for an HS Spanish course that could be read in its place. I can see the appeal to some teen readers, but I think that appeal may be limited. For Allende, any of her older works would have been better: House of Spirits, Eva Luna, etc. Best, and keep on blogging.