Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Discovering Isabel Allende: A journey into mysticism

Magical realism has become the most attractive word for me nowadays . Specially the Latin American authors being the ones leading the trend are threatening to displace all the books on my bookshelf . Isabel Allende is of course one of the usual suspects of this onslaught .

I’ve always known her name having read her eulogies in several places . But I’d never read her before . All that changed last month when I discovered an entire shelf dedicated to her in my favourite bookstore . Almost all of her books were available there , house of spirits , Eva Luna , infinite plane , my invented country , Ines of my Soul , Paula & Zorro . But I was in an escapist mood , wary of work , interviews & life in general . I wanted to get myself immersed in some juvenile adventure story for some relief . So I picked up “City of the Beasts” by the same author which is first of such kind from the author , first one of the Alex , Nadia & Kate trilogy . I started reading it eagerly after coming back to my room & soon I found out that my decision was not incorrect . It had all the ingredients of a perfect teenage adventure story . An energetic teen couple(if I may say so) , a rough & tough granny , mysterious Amazonian rainforests , elusive tribesmen , mythical creatures & sinister marauders . Though such stories have been told a thousand times , it becomes lively at the hands of the accomplished author .

The story revolves around a fifteen year old troubled teenager Alexander Cold . His mother is ill & his life is in utter chaos . Unable to manage the situation , his father sends him to his granny Kate , who is an exceptional woman . She’s traveled almost all of the world in search of stories demanded by her profession . She’s been part of many life threatening adventures & even at the age of sixty four she was ready for another one to the Amazons . She doesn’t believe in pampering children , so she takes Alex also along with her to the perilous trip in search of a killer beast . On the way to their destination they meet other members of the expedition team including the honey coloured daughter of the guide , Nadia . Alex strikes profound friendship with her which only strengthens with the progress of the story . They begin the journey of adventure , realization , discovery & revelation . They meet people from the mist , the mysterious tribe which leave in perfect harmony with the nature . They also encounter the ancient beasts .

The book is a pleasure to read . Though the plot is actually clich├ęd I’ve always liked such stuff . Not only because of the plot but also for skillful yet effortless storytelling by Allende . The narrative is so vivid that you feel transferred to the Amazons yourself . Description of locations , animals , dreams & hallucinations speaks volumes about the author & her extent of imagination .

The Amazons have always attracted me . Ever since I read Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” in 3rd Standard . Both of these boos start the journey from the Amazonian city of Manaus & ventures deep into the similar territory . So comparisons become inevitable . In that sense I would prefer Allende’s book because Doyle’s book was written in Colonial times from a white man’s point of view . On the other hand Allende is more sympathetic & respectful towards the natives . She endorsed their simplistic & minimalist lifestyle . She blends modern philosophy with native Indian mysticism . So there are some underlying messages along with breathtaking adventure .

So, though it is one of the lesser known works by Allende , it has enough indication of her caliber as a storyteller . It’s a feast to all who love those carefree teenage adventures . But those who think they are too grown up , should stay away from this .

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