The Clan of the cave bear is the first of Jean Auel's Earth's Children series. Ayla, a tall, blond, blue-eyed girl lost her family in an earthquake. She is nurtured and protected by some members of the Clan, but there are those who would cast her out because of her strange and threatening ways. Ayla's adventures 25,000 years ago include details of the world as it might have been.
To my surprise, it wasn't that bad. For those who don't know, it takes place mostly among "cave people." Ayla is a 5-year-old human. After her family dies in an earthquake, she is found by the Clan of the Cave Bear. From the beginning, she battles for acceptance. She is regarded as ugly, loud, crass, and most definitely not one of them. As she ages, she gains status with the clan as she learns the art of being a medicine woman. However, she can never forget she is not one of them - especially when her jealous rival, Broud, is intent on her destruction.
There were a few major annoyances. The author obviously did tremendous research on the era and on plants, but she did not need such extensive details. I swear at least a 1/3 to 1/2 of the book could have been cut out and no one would notice. A single walk to collect plants take up five pages of very fine print. The plot was extremely linear and predictable. Hints are too obvious. And yes, Ayla is rather Mary Sue-ish, and Broud is almost too brutish and evil. There is no real balance there. It's painful to read about a society that regards women in such a way, though it did make sense within the context of the book.
Maybe someday I'll pick up the next book, but I won't be in a rush.
What a waste. It could have been so much better.
I love that by reading this book I can escape to a completely different world. A world which make me think about and question the one I live in. Jean M Auel has done an incredible amount of research to make everything in her books as accurate as possible. This means that there are many many details about how things look and how they are done. Some how Jean M Auel manages to pour in all that detail and still keep me captivated by the story of a young girl raised by people different from herself and how she adapts and learns to live within thier rules and expecations.
I have a very dog-earred copy of this book as I have read it over and over. It is well worth picking up and reading once or twice. :-)
In this story the characters show weaknesses, making for well-rounded, realistic characters. Add a good plot, and a detail-rich backdrop of prehistoric life, and the result is a very enjoyable story, especially for people with an interest in this period in human history.
Remaining stories relate to the main character growing into some sort of 'Super woman' of prehistoric Europe who was so amazingly inventive that we would still be living in caves if it wasn't for her ingenuity. Cringe-worthy.
I was kind of fascinated by the culture of the Clan, which believes in and worships animal spirits and has a strict hierarchy with men as entirely dominant over their docile and obedient women. The clearly sexist culture of the Clan seems to have been designed to show that this is the stone age and thus be "realistic," while setting it up for Ayla to be more progressive as a woman capable of being equal to men. It's an oversimplification in order to easily play on the reader's sympathies, but for all of that (and for Broud being a single minded and one-dimensional villain), there are some lovely characters in the the clan, such as Creb, the deformed shaman, and Iza, the medicine woman who takes Ayla in. Both, but especially Creb, had some wonderful complexities of character that I rather enjoyed.
Ayla her self was a little too perfect. She's good at just about everything she does, except for being docile and submissive. She screws up again and again in terms of Clan traditions, but these screw ups are positives from a modern mindset, so as readers we are clearly meant to take her side against the less evolved Clan. Also, the story got to be a bit repetitive as she screws up, is nearly rejected by the Clan, and then is fogiven..., several times.
There were a few things that made me very uncomfortable while reading this book. One, was the concept of racial memory prevalent in the book and the idea that the Clan cannot change their ways, because their culture is genetically endowed in them, a rather disturbing concept, especially in regard to continuing discussions of race. Two, is that Ayla, as blonde and blue-eyed, is set up as the future of the human race, while the dark hair and eyed Clan people are doomed to death because they can't change. I don't care that they are meant to be less evolved and that this is the stone age, the author didn't have to set Ayla off by making her so starkly blonde. It could have been just as clear that she was more evolved by showing her height and body structure as by her coloring.
Another thing that was far more minor, and something I'm note entirely sure of, is that I kept scratching my head in terms of the mixture of geography, plant life, and animal species. I mean, I associate the lynx with either Europe or North America and lions and rhinos with Africa, and I'm not entirely sure they ever mixed in natural settings. Maybe they did and I just don't know it, but I kept getting confused about how certain animals ever came in contact with each other.
So..., this book is flawed in many big ways, but it was also compelling enough to keep me reading to the end, which left me wondering what the heck happens to Ayla next and willing to pick up the next book The Valley of the Horses to find out. So, I would say, the author has done her job in terms of keeping things entertaining and keeping me reading.
The Neanderthals were going to let her die when the Medicine Woman asked to help her.
So begins Ayla's saga - as she struggles to fit into an alien culture where they do not verbalize, girls become women (and start bearing children) at 8, all work is cut along sexual lines - they are not capable of crossing those ones.
We follow Ayla's struggle to be a good clan woman even when it goes against everything being a Cro-Magnon means, and the beginning of a long journey to find her own people and her destiny.
Meticulously researched, you will also learn much about the landscape, animals, and plants of the era as you watch the child become a woman - and a legend.