three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-ZorroUnder Spanish rule in late 18th-century California, Diego de la Vega (a.k.a. Zorro, the masked fox), born to an aristocratic Spanish father and a Shoshone warrior mother, comes of age. In this work of historical fiction, Allende recreates the exotic origins of the great Zorro and his life’s influences. He embraces his Native American heritage, witnesses injustices to his people, attends school in Spain, and joins a secret resistance movement dedicated to championing the poor. Because of these experiences, Zorro returns to California with a social conscience that brands him an 18th-century Robin Hood. Duels, villains, pirates, gypsies, secret societies, and, of course, love—they are all here in this vivid version of Zorro’s life.
HarperCollins. 390 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0060778970

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"… one of those rare and perfect matches of subject and author. … Allende (born in Peru, raised in Chile, and in recent years a resident of California) has rooted her story in a re-creation of Latin California and remade Diego de la Vega into the first real All-American hero." Allen Barra

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In her hands, Zorro … emerges as a bundle of disturbing contradictions between light and shade, proportion and passion. … The one place where the novel’s theme seems more muted … is between the lavender-scented bedsheets clinging to the plush-bosomed ladies who populate its pages."
Yxta Maya Murray

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"… Allende’s world of Zorro is like the cleaned-up, morally uncomplicated terrain of the 1940 movie. Just add racial parity and a feminist twist at the end, and we have a wonderfully written, if inconsequential, romantic tale." Meg Daly

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Allende is a staunchly old-fashioned writer … it is written in the comforting, old-timey omniscience of yesteryear. … She’ll pack a chapter with duels, fair maidens, pirates, and cliffhangers and then she’ll turn the page and do it again." Jenny Shank

Chicago Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… Allende makes it quite clear how deeply her story takes its nourishment from historical events and peppers the tale with figures out of history. … [She has created] a lively and fascinating version of the Zorro story, with enough verve and swash to keep the reader with her all the way." Alan Cheuse

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[F]rankly I am amazed at how enjoyable a picaresque novel can be, particularly one imbued with swashbuckling, swordplay, honor, hidden desire, unlikely coincidence and a good old-fashioned villain. Such elements are a reminder of the attractions of one of the main strains of world literature that starts with Don Quixote." Craig Nova

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"[Unanchored] in legend or history [in Barcelona], we lurch with no clear direction from episode to episode: a duel; various encounters with fierce but kindly Gypsies; a hopeless love for a beautiful but coldhearted woman; the schemes of a villainous rival; a brush with a truly implausible secret society." Max Byrd

Critical Summary

The fictional Zorro debuted in Johnston McCulley’s serialized potboiler in 1919; since then, he’s made some dramatic comebacks. By recasting this swashbuckling hero in the context of his personal history, Allende follows in the path of her recent historical fiction like Daughter of Fortune (1999) and Portrait in Sepia (2001). Critics agree that while Zorro is light and entertaining, it is also a serious piece of literature—even if some reviewers were confounded by Allende’s mix of history and reality. Allende inserts a postmodern bent into her traditional storytelling, drawing feminist and racial themes and presenting a narrator with a hidden identity. Critics mainly disagreed about Zorro. Most thought him convincingly contradictory, while a couple viewed him as one-dimensional. Despite these complaints, most agree that Zorro is a captivating, modern version of the famed legend.