Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Clan of the Cave Bear

If I had any dedicated readers, by now they have probably noticed that I haven't made a blog post in a month. To be honest, I just haven't felt like reading manga or writing reviews. I still don't feel like reading manga, but I did pick up a novel. At first, I had no intention of writing about my reading experience, but I'm finding that I do have some thoughts I'd like to share about it. Please bear with me as I attempt my first novel review of the first installment in Jean M. Auel's 'Earth's Children' series, 'The Clan of the Cave Bear'.

A young Cro-Magnon girl wakes up one morning to wander by the river. Out of nowhere, a terrible earthquake strikes, sending her camp along with her family to their death into a chasm. Alone, confused and frightened, the girl roams aimlessly until starvation and an encounter with a cave lion brings her near death. As luck would have it, a group on Neanderthal people come across her and take her in to their clan. Nursed back to health by her adoptive mother, Iza, the young Cro-Magnon girl, Ayla, finds love in her strange, new family, but suffers much in her struggle to conform to the foreign traditions of the Neanderthal Clan. 

'The Clan of the Cave Bear' has a great group of characters, both likeable and unlikeable. I think I had the most complex feelings about the Clan. Ayla, the main character, is pretty much a given to be likeable. But with the Neanderthals, my feelings for most of them were dynamic and situational, which makes things a lot more interesting. There were extremes, like Broud, future clan leader and main antagonist. He was a jerk through and through. And then you have Creb and Iza, Ayla's adoptive parents, who were for the most part easy to like. The rest of the cast shifted a bit more, with Clan leader, Brun, being the most interesting and dynamic for me. He was stuck between being stubborn and keeping with strict, clan traditions, and being surprisingly flexible and reasonable. He had to make some hard choices. Choices that made me as a reader resent him. But that just made the situations where he was able to accept change all the more grand. When we would get a glimpse of his inner thoughts and he had an epiphany, you almost feel proud of him. I found the Neanderthals quite fascinating to watch, and though their reluctance to change was frustrating, they had their moments that would shame some of the stubborn politicians of today. 

I can't talk about 'The Clan of the Cave Bear' without talking about Ayla. Everything centers around her and she was both the means of great progress and calamity for her adoptive clan. Compared to the conservative Neanderthals, Ayla was a rebel. And that's what's so interesting about her. Within the backdrop of strict traditions of the cave, her natural curiosity stood out greatly. Because of how strict Clan rules are, she often had to act on her own in secret to satiate her urge to learn, grow and change. That meant teaching herself and figuring things out in isolation. Adapting and inventing without outside influence. Creating new hunting techniques and applying a certain common sense approach to problems that the Neanderthals couldn't grasp. Her situation kind of reminded me of why I like the manga, 'Animal Land', where Taroza had to figure things out through trial and error, much in the same way Ayla did(Look! I made this novel review relevant to my manga blog!). Ayla is smart and strong and she really earns her stripes and the respect of the reader in this book. She goes through so much earned triumph, but even a greater amount of suffering, all before the age of 14. I really can't go into specifics at all, but the strength she shows through all these challenges she faces makes me feel like a coddled wimp, and her difficulties make my life problems seem like minor annoyances at best. I truly admire her as a character, a lot like I admire some of the inspirational determinators of the Shonen, fighting manga I often read(I did it again! Manga talk!).

My other favorite aspect to this book also has to do with the characters, but more specifically, the relationships between the characters. And even more specifically, the relationship between Ayla and her adoptive parents, Iza and Creb. Iza is the Clan's respected medicine woman and the one who saved Ayla's life. Creb is Iza's older brother and the Clan's Mog-ur or magic man. They both have undoubtedly the strongest relationship with Ayla and the most interaction. Iza's relationship is slightly typical of what you would think a mother and daughter relationship would be, but it is still interesting because of the constraints of the Neanderthals way of life. Iza knows Ayla best and knows she is different, but is still very torn when Ayla acts on her differences. Creb too, often overlooks Ayla's breaking of tradition(read "law" in the context of the book) because of his love for her. Their love for each other is what is so great about the family unit. Ayla has shown them love like they have never known before. I don't want to say the Neanderthals were unfeeling before Ayla showed up, but because of Ayla, they were able to begin to understand a new kind of happiness and love that they never experienced before. Especially Creb, who is deformed and feared as a magician. Ayla showed no fear of his deformities, and respected and loved him for who he is, and not because of his appearance or power. Creb never mated or had a child of his own and had learned to accept that he never would, so Ayla was a godsend(very literally to him) that drastically changed the way he went about life. The contrast between Ayla, Iza and Creb's relationship with the family life of the rest of the clan and what we the readers know as a family relationship only serve to make their relationship all the more interesting to follow and watch evolve from scratch.

I really haven't read a novel in a long time('A Feast for Crows' over a year ago). Manga is my first love, but recently I've been frustrated with the medium. Now that I've found 'The Clan of the Cave Bear', I'm actually glad that I decided to put manga aside for the moment. Jean M. Auel was able to paint an amazingly detailed picture of prehistoric, human life that I was able to get lost in like I haven't been lost in a story for a while now. It's a great feeling to be completely immersed in this world of our ancestors, and get to see how they may have lived and feel how they may have felt. I absolutely loved this book from cover to cover, and you can be sure that I will be reading the next in the series, 'The Valley of Horses'. I know this is suppose to be a manga blog, but I am going to have to change things up a little and highly recommend 'The Clan of the Cave Bear'.

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