So here’s the thing:
Like a lot of Mexican and Mexi-merican kids, I love Zorro. Growing up, I devoured every book, tv show, movie and comic I could find about The Fox, that mysterious defender of the downtrodden (even this one). As a child, I assumed he was based at least in part on some authentic Mexican hero; alas, as I discovered in my later years, Zorro came not from Mexico’s colonial past, but from the mind of some dude named Johnston McCulley. I was crushed – my hero, the proud and clever Diego de la Vega, was the product of some Army public affairs officer’s imagination?
Then, realizing that, regardless of his origins, Zorro still kicked ass, I let go of my ethnocentric prejudices (after all, it’s not like Tolkien was a Hobbit. Well, not that we know about, anyway) about the inability of an “outsider” to create such a fantastic character and instead decided that McCulley was a pretty cool guy himself (even if he did give us the Crimson Clown, a figure that combined the fashion sense of the Unibomber with the modus operandi of a date rapist, sans rape).
Given my lifelong adoration of all things Zorro, I approached Isabel Allende’s novel with both excitement and trepidation; the former because I’ve long been a fan of Allende’s work as well, and the latter because it seems that whenever anyone attempts to “update” something precious to me, it turns into the abomination known as Jim Carey’s suck-tastic version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Nevertheless, Allende had never failed me before, and so I settled down with an enormous mug of tea and cracked open Zorro.
Almost instantly, I found myself swept into the story, just as I had been as a child. Here was a thing near and dear to my nerdish heart: the origin story! At last, I found an in-depth telling of the early years of the boy who would become The Fox: his aristocratic and arrogant father; his wild, mystical mother; the mentor who would enable him to become the early-Californian equivalent of Batman. Allende’s clear prose and engaging style made this a quick read – I looked up after a few hours and realized I was almost finished with the 400-page book, my tea cold, my neck a little stiff.
Allende, like Marquez and Hoffman, excels at the art of magical realism…and while there are certain elements of the fantastical in this book, at no time do they become a distraction rather than an enchantment. The novel is a very fast read, as I said – too fast, really, because by the time you reach the closing passages, you find yourself hungry for more adventures with Zorro. From learning the secrets of the Shoshone to mastering fencing to a memorable encounter with Jean Lafitte, Zorro’s larger-than-life story leaps off the page.
I give this book FIVE PEEPS, my highest rating.