Librarian note: You can find an alternate cover edition here.
This novel of awesome beauty and power is a moving saga about people, relationships, and the boundaries of love. Through Jean M. Auel’s magnificent storytelling we are taken back to the dawn of modern humans, and with a girl named Ayla we are swept up in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world they shared with the ones who called themselves The Clan of the Cave Bear.
A natural disaster leaves the young girl wandering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman of the Clan, people very different from her own kind. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks peculiar and ugly--she is one of the Others, those who have moved into their ancient homeland; but Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old Mog-ur, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. But the brutal and proud youth who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority. He develops a deep and abiding hatred for the strange girl of the Others who lives in their midst, and is determined to get his revenge.
Jean M. Auel, née Jean Marie Untinen is an American author best known for her Earth's Children books, a series of historical fiction novels set in prehistoric Europe that explores interactions of Cro-Magnon people with Neanderthals. As of 2010 her books have sold more than 45 million copies worldwide, in many translations.
Auel attended University of Portland, and earned an MBA in 1976. She received honorary degrees from her alma mater, as well as the University of Maine and the Mount Vernon College for Women. She and her husband, Ray Bernard Auel, have five children and live in Portland, Oregon.
Ms Auel, there are some things I’d like to talk to you about. Be warned I’m quite angry because I keep reading your books for some bizarre reason and I cringe and tear my hair out in despair. See, you had a good story there – a little Cro-Magnon orphan girl found and raised by Neanderthals. I didn’t even care she turned out to be the smartest, most beautiful, ingenious little thing and the villain in the story was almost grotesque and cartoonish in his evildoing. I knew no real harm would ever come Ayla’s way, she would survive it all and meanwhile invent an iPhone. It’s all ok, it’s comfort reading after all. It’s the writing I had many different problems with.
First of all – point of view.
"The plentiful supply of drinking water kept dehydration from making its dangerous contribution to hypothermia, the lowering of body temperature that brought death from exposure, but she was getting weak."
I’m sorry, what? It’s 35000 BC, I don’t want to hear things like ‘hypothermia’ or ‘diuretic’ or ‘evolution’. I didn’t need that foreshadowing of the 20th century. I wanted a story as seen through the eyes of prehistorical people and I’d seriously take anything the author threw my way, there would be no limits to my suspension of disbelief. But since I had that constant running commentary that sounded like something from a BBC documentary I was forced to get out the story and look at it from a dispassionate, modern point of view, which inevitably led me to the conclusion that half of it was unbelievable bollocks.
"All those primitive people, with almost no frontal lobes, and speech limited by undeveloped vocal organs, but with huge brains—larger than any race of man then living or future generations yet unborn—were unique. They were the culmination of a branch of mankind whose brain was developed in the back of their heads, in the occipital and the parietal regions that control vision and bodily sensation and store memory."
No! You can’t put paragraphs like that in a STORY! Did you copy it from an encyclopedia? You're confusing research with copy-pasting.
The narrative finally jumped the shark when it implied that Neanderthal women were scared of learning new things because with their hereditary memory (yeah, me neither) their children would keep having larger and larger heads which eventually would lead to more difficult births and higher infant and mother mortality rate, ergo decline of the race and evolutionary cul-de-sac. No, I’m serious.
And here is why Broud (the villain) hates Ayla:
"but the real problem was she was not Clan. […] Her brain followed different paths, her full, high forehead that housed forward-thinking frontal lobes gave her an understanding from a different view."
Yes. He hated her because of her forward-thinking frontal lobes.
But when Auel gives the voice to Ayla, her stream of conscience is even worse than the droning of the main narrator. It’s like listening to someone on amphetamines.
"I’ll dig some roots on the way back. Iza says the roots are good for Creb’s rheumatism, too. I hope the fresh cherry bark will help Iza’s cough. She’s getting better, I think, but she’s so skinny. Uba’s getting so big and heavy, Iza shouldn’t lift her at all. Maybe I’ll bring Uba with me next time, if I can. I’m so glad we didn’t have to give her to Oga. She’s really starting to talk now. It’ll be fun when she gets a little bigger and we can go out together. Look at those pussy willows. Funny how they feel like real fur when they’re small like that, but they grow out green. The sky is so blue today. I can smell the sea in the wind. I wonder when we’ll be going fishing. The water should be warm enough to swim in soon. I wonder why no one else likes to swim? The sea tastes salty, not like the stream, but I feel so light in it. I can hardly wait until we go fishing. I think I love sea fish best of all, but I like eggs, too."
Second – repetitions. For god’s sake. I know we homo sapiens sapiens don’t have as good memory as Neanderthals but I’m pretty sure your average human doesn’t need to have a piece of information repeated every five pages. This book could easily be 150 pages without losing anything. A perfect candidate for Reader’s Digest’s condesations.
Another problem – showing… and then telling. Because we all readers are completely dumb and we don’t get it.
"I see you and Dorv put your slings to good use. I could smell the meat cooking halfway up the hill,” Brun continued. “When we get settled in the new cave, we’ll have to find a place to practice. The clan would benefit if all the hunters had your skill with the sling, Zoug. And it won’t be long before Vorn will need to be trained.” The leader was aware of the contribution the older men still made to the sustenance of the clan and wanted them to know it.”
Why was that last sentence needed? This is exactly what the dialogue implied! Ms. Auel, are you disrespecting me?
We know that Ayla doesn’t remember ever seeing any humans that look like her, only Neanderthals, so it’s obvious she would have body image problems, feel ugly, big, deformed. It’s implied many times but just in case we don’t understand why a tall, slim, blue-eyed blond girl might feel ugly, Auel explains, repeatedly:
"For as long as she could remember, Ayla had never seen anyone except people of the clan. She had no other standard of measure. They had grown accustomed to her, but to herself, she looked different from everyone around her, abnormally different."
On top of that all sort of other random nonsense.
"She simply hadn’t been able to grasp the concept of talking with movement. That it was even possible had never occurred to her; it was totally beyond her realm of experience."
Really? She invents pretty much anything and understand calculus but has never seen anyone gesticulate? That’s almost second nature to every human. If you meet someone who speaks a different language and you try to communicate with them, you almost automatically resort to gestures, so don’t even give me that bullshit.
Yet another problem was that Auel obviously confused description with enumerations. It’s not that there were too many descriptions in this book; it’s that they were all boring. She even managed to make those little Neanderthal Olympic Games sound boring. I’d love for someone to pay me to rewrite this whole thing.
And there were NO sexy scenes in this volume!
I am almost ashamed to admit that I also read book two, and it was only around page 30 of the book three that I managed to snap out of it and decided I just couldn’t do it any longer. It was like crack, it was ruining my life.
The thing that strikes me most about her work is that every time there's a new discovery about how paleolithic people lived, it goes along with her stories. Things they said were silly back when she wrote it (Neanderthals with instruments, Neanderthals living with homo sapiens sapiens, and the like) keep proving true.
She presents interesting ideas of cognition, culture and how societies develop. The first two books are her best I think. The rest remain interesting if you can deal with the constant repetition, soft core porn and the fact that Ayla discovers everything but cold fusion.
Clan of the Cave Bear is an incredible, courageous story. The author spent a lot of time hanging out with some of the world's most noted paleontologists doing her research- and she knows her stuff!
It’s official, my tastes are slowly changing in books. I didn’t love this book as much as I did. And I find at times I love a particular book in a series and I’ll just keep that physical book and trade in the rest. What’s the point of keeping things you just don’t love any more.
I have the beautiful mass market paperbacks of these books. I loved the second book at the time but we shall see and I want to finish them out. I have this first book on kindle and audible as well. I might just get the other ones if I like them in those formats. I just don’t know.
I love Ayla and her animals dearly, but I just don’t like reading certain things any more.
Omg!! This book was awesome!! Yes, there were some parts but there always seem to have those in books I read! I still loved it!
The Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth's Children #1), Jean M. Auel
The Clan of the Cave Bear is an epic work of prehistoric fiction by Jean M. Auel about prehistoric times. A five-year-old girl, Ayla, whom readers come to understand is Cro-Magnon, is orphaned and left homeless by an earthquake that destroys her family's camp. She wanders aimlessly, naked and unable to feed herself, for several days. Having been attacked and nearly killed by a cave lion and suffering from starvation, exhaustion, and infection of her wounds, she collapses, on the verge of death.
The narrative switches to a group of people who call themselves "The Clan" and whom we come to understand are Neanderthal, whose cave was destroyed in the earthquake and who are searching for a new home. The medicine woman of the group, Iza, discovers the girl and asks permission from Brun, the head of the Clan, to help the ailing child, despite the child being clearly a member of "the Others," the distrusted antagonists of the Clan. The child is adopted by Iza and her brother Creb. Creb is this group's "Mog-ur" or shaman, despite being deformed as a result of the difficult birth resulting from his abnormally large head and the later loss of an arm and eye after being attacked by a cave bear.
The Clan worship spiritual representations of Earthly animals called "totems", whom they believe can influence their lives by way of good or bad luck and for whom Mog-ur acts as an intermediary. Brun agrees to allow Iza to treat the dying child and to adopt her only if Creb can discover her personal totem spirit. ...
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز نوزدهم ماه فوریه سال2003میلادی
عنوان: قبیله خرس غار؛ نویسنده: جین ام. آول؛ مترجم: شهیندخت لطف اللهی (محبوب)؛ تهران، چشمه، سال1381؛ در585ص؛ چاپ سوم سال1389؛ شابک9789643620417؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده20م
داستان در پایان دوران انسانهای بدوی، یا همان «نئاندرتالها»، و آغاز دوران انسانهای اندیشه ورز، روایت میشود، و ماجرایی پر کشش دارد؛ شخصیت اصلی داستان دختری به نام «آیلا» است؛ «آیلای» پنج ساله، پس از زلزله ای بیخانمان میشود، و گروهی از «نئاندرتال»ها تصمیم میگیرند، از او نگهداری کنند؛ خوانشگر در این داستان؛ شاهد رویارویی انسانهای اندیشه ورز، با نسل انسانهای غارنشین، در دوران از بین رفتن آنهاست
تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 03/12/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 24/10/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
I could easily sit between a red-faced evolutionist and a screaming creationist, both arguing around me, and quite contentedly finish any book I was reading.
I'm no Louis Leakey, people.
I'm no Tammy Faye Baker, either.
I am, in fact, an anthropological airhead, and arguing with me about creationism or evolution is like trying to convince me to become interested in my car's transmission. Whatever the hell that is.
Ain't going to happen, folks.
I figure. . . if I don't personally have the ability to prove or disprove a theory (or identify a transmission), I'm just going to sit back, relax and focus on the stories.
I love stories.
And, since it turned out that my end-of-summer fantasy of having sex with Viggo Mortensen in a cave off of the Mediterranean Sea wasn't going to happen, I started searching for a story that would have an adventurous feel to it. And, you know. . . maybe some cave sex.
Neanderthal cave sex.
Now, if you're a creationist and you're getting worried about my language here, why don't we just replace the word Neanderthal for ex-boyfriends or my high school baseball team?
And if you're an anthropologist and you're getting worried that I know no concrete facts about the evolution of man, I apologize for my inability to truly understand that a Neanderthal is something different from an ex-boyfriend or my high school baseball team.
Everybody feeling good now? Sort of? More confused than ever?
So, back to the question. . . that you never asked. . . and possibly would never even wonder . . . did I find excellent cave sex in this book of Neanderthals (or primitive man, or whatever in hell these little sloped forehead, hairy pygmies are supposed to be)?
Well, does this answer your question?
In this primitive society, sex was as natural and unrestrained as sleeping or eating. Children learned as they learned other skills and customs, by observing adults, and they played at intercourse as they mimicked other activities from a young age. Often a boy who reached puberty, but had not yet made his first kill and existed in a limbo between child and adult, penetrated a girl child even before she reached menarche. Hymens were pierced young, though males were a little fearful if blood was spilled and quickly ignored the girl if it happened
Ain't nothing sexy about that paragraph.
Ms. Auel. . . do you understand that I've been home with my children all summer? No sleepaway camp, no evenings out on the town?
It's been a long, hot summer. And I don't mean sexy hot. I mean. . . damn, it's been in the 90s forever.
I wanted to read about cave sex, not these little freaks.
And what's with their dialogue reading like Shakespearean soliloquies, when you clearly point out that these people can't do more than grunt and move their hands in rudimentary gestures?
How now, Ms. Auel?
Why do the Neanderthals talk with such sophistication?
And why did you need to take 10 pages to describe a green leaf (that wasn't quite green, but gray, and transparent and fluttering in the breeze, with spots on it)? Just write the word “leaf” and let's move on.
Ack! I can't wait to return my copy.
I'm using some hand signals right now, Ms. Auel. Can you see them?
I don't like Neanderthals. They're awful. So's this book.
I think I do prefer the Adam and Eve theory; they're like the Barbie and Ken of the ancient world, and I bet they had sex in a proper hotel.
And, just for the record, I hope the glorious angel Gabriel flies down from Heaven on a pterodactyl some day, and lands right on a street in New York City.
I feel like we'd all shut up at the same time and hum in peaceful wonder at our awesome existence.
I once read an article from National Geographic in which the author had spent some time living with a Stone Age tribe in Africa. The people were a studied anachronism, living in modern times, but within a carefully maintained atavistic society of hunting and gathering. Most endearing of this study was the author’s observations about the interactive dialogue amongst the members of the tribe. One wife would say to her husband, “another woman has three beads, I only have two, I wish I had a husband who could work hard and provide.” Another would say to his young son, “is that how you skin a kill? Here let me show you how it is done.” Human nature does not change.
And so we come to Jean Auel’s magnificent anthropological narrative of a young Cro-Magnon girl orphaned by her family and raised by a group of Neanderthals. This read like a study of the group, similar to Jared Diamond or Thor Heyerdahl, where she is an omnipresent and omniscient narrator of the life and times of Ayla as she grows up with the clan of Neanderthals, close relatives of humans, but distinct and different. Auel masterfully creates a glimpse onto their complex social structures and group dynamics and describes Neanderthals with an instinctive, racial memory.
Apart from the clearly well researched and thoughtful scientific examination of Neanderthal society, with a fairly complicated social structure and theological underpinnings, Auel also tells a fascinating story. My only criticism would be the ending, which is somewhat predictable but also truncated with a deus ex machina that wraps things up just too neatly.
All in all, an excellent book that makes me want to read the other books in her Earth Children series.
Geschafft! Bei diesem Buch bin ich nun wirklich froh, es beendet zu haben. Ich habe es 2010 schon einmal lesen wollen und dann bei 350 Seiten aufgegeben. Dabei ist die Geschichte nicht schlecht, im Gegenteil. Ich finde das Setting total spannend und faszinierend und es interessiert mich auch sehr, wie die Menschen damals gelebt haben (könnten). Aber manchmal war es mir dann zwischendurch immer mal wieder etwas zu langatmig. Den zweiten Band möchte ich aber dennoch noch lesen, denn es interessiert mich schon, wie die Geschichte von Ayla weitergeht.
This was a great pick! I thoroughly enjoyed this read! Set during prehistoric times, Ayla’s Home and her family are lost to a devastating earthquake. Homeless and alone she wanders the land, barely surviving, until she is found by Iza - a member of The Clan. Ayla struggles to fit in and to be accepted by The Clan, its customs foreign to her. Their treatment of women being the main hurdle - all women are below men in status, expected to cook for the men, never to ignore a direct order from a man and certainly never allowed to hunt! As time progresses The Clan become accustomed to the different girl, and she integrates. But not everyone is so understanding- Broud, the son of the Clan leader hates Ayla fiercely and will do whatever necessary to bring her down! With some scenes slightly shocking, I couldn’t stop turning the pages! This novel was full of vivid descriptions, including the way cave people lived - their local sources of food, clothing and intricate belief system. A wonderful selection of characters, I was reminded of the Disney film ‘Brother Bear’ where each Clan member has a spirit totem, in the form of an animal - I was fully engrossed in this world, and look forward to continuing it.
Note, March 25, 2014: I edited this review slightly just now, to delete one accidental dittography. Hmmm, I thought I'd proofread this.... :-)
Auel's Earth's Children series (this opening volume was followed by, so far, four sequels) garners mixed --and mostly negative-- reviews here on Goodreads. Though none of them have reviewed it, a dozen of my Goodreads friends have given it ratings, ranging from one star to five. Obviously, my own reaction falls at the favorable end of the spectrum.
Ayla, of course, is a Cro-Magnon (i.e., an anatomically modern human; you and I are "Cro-Magnons" too, in that anthropological sense) orphaned by a natural disaster and raised by a clan of Neanderthals. For a writer of historical fiction, a prehistoric setting poses a challenge; technically, the genre embraces any fiction set in the past, but its authors usually depend heavily on written records for events and background material, and for the Ice Age, no such records exist. To her credit, Auel was the first writer in the genre to attempt it on a large scale (though Jack London and William Golding each wrote single novels set in prehistory), and to popularize it sufficiently to create a market niche and a subgenre tradition that other writers have begun to develop. In place of written records, she immersed herself in the exhaustive study of every known aspect of the physical evidence from the period, and all of the various scholarly interpretations of it. Her reconstruction of both Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal natural history, society and culture is of course speculative; but it is based meticulously on this research. Even the more controversial features of her Neanderthals --their "Memories," a genetically-transmitted racial memory of past experiences, and their difficulty with verbal speech (and consequent preference for sign language)-- have grounds in known Neanderthal physiology, such as their hyper-developed back brains, which control memory. (Although Auel is an evolutionist, she recognizes Neanderthals as "a branch of humanity" and depicts them as fully human, not as the "ape-men" who figure in London's Before Adam or Conan Doyle's The Lost World --a point in her favor.)
A weakness of Auel's writing is the converse of her strong research: she has a tendency to want to divulge every iota of erudition she has on the Ice Age world, and doesn't always seamlessly integrate it into the narrative. She also has a penchant for explicitly detailed sex, which in my estimation is not a plus. Here, however, neither of these flaws are as marked as they are in the later books (the latter because the plot here affords little occasion for it --Ayla doesn't yet have a love interest, though that gets remedied later on. :-)) IMO, her strong points outweigh these. First and foremost, she has a capacity to create fully alive, three-dimensional characters whom the reader can relate to (positively or negatively) just like real people --Iza, Creb, Brun, Broud, even several of the minor characters; and above all Ayla herself, as we watch her grow from a scared, traumatized child into a strong, highly competent and intelligent woman. Indeed, she's much too strong, competent and intelligent for some of the Clan to accept in a woman (and judging from critical and reader reactions, some moderns aren't very cool with it either! :-))
That brings up another strong point of the book --Auel's intelligent engaging of serious issues that are still relevant to our lives today. Gender roles are the most obvious; against the backdrop of the male- dominated Clan, Ayla makes a lived-out case for a genuine feminism (of the equalitarian rather than male-bashing sort) that argues for social roles based on demonstrated ability and interests, not gender. But the book also addresses issues of interracial and cross-cultural relations, and the conflict between inflexible tradition and cultural inertia, represented by the change-resistant Clan ("It's never been done before!" is leader Brun's characteristic refrain, which became a byword in our household :-)), vs. needed adaptation to changing conditions. Also, Ayla's fight to save the life of her infant son (conceived in a rape) provides a powerful pro-life message --though that may well have been unintended on Auel's part. (But as D. H. Lawrence said, "Trust the tale and not the teller." :-))
All in all, I consider this one of the better contemporary American novels in any genre, and regard Ayla as one of the greatest fictional characters --and best female role models-- in modern literature. (The series was one that I read out loud to my wife; it also became one of her all-time favorites, and she re-reads it periodically on her own!)
I *really* wanted to dig this book. I have a burgeoning obsession with prehistory, evolution, and the antecedents of man, and a tale of Cro Magnons and Neanderthals is exactly what I'd love to read.
Sadly, this book does not contain that tale.
Instead, it's a goopy mess of inane metaphysics, prurience for prurience's sake, and a none-too-subtle dollop of racism, as the blonde-haired and light-skinned heroine shows the more primitive (and darker-skinned) Neanderthals how to do--well, just about everything.
This is a white man's burden fantasy writ large, and not writ very well.
Circa 30,000 years ago in the lands surrounding the broad Black Sea , in future Europe, a cataclysmic event occurred, not very unusual there, but still to the superstitious Ice Age people , a devastating occurrence. A family of Cro -Magnons, the first modern humans, our direct ancestors, were wiped out, near a small river, all except a little girl named Ayla , just five, she liked to sneak away and jump joyously into the stream, at dawn, a swimmer before the child could walk. The shaking soil and rumbling sounds frightened the girl, all her relatives, inside a lean-to hut, disappeared beneath the earth, as if a giant beast swallowed them, never to be seen again. Alone, not knowing how to survive, or where to go, she wanders for days drinking the clear waters of the river, that Ayla follows, eating anything edible nearby, growing hungrier, at last, her weakened body collapses on the ground. But a small band of twenty Neanderthals, whose cave was destroyed in the earthquake too, and losing six of their members, are looking to discover another, find the child, but she is an "Other", a strange species they avoid, easily done, the few scattered groups of men, rarely encounter anyone else in the vast world. Iza, the wise medicine woman, feels sorry for the little girl, all alone , that nobody cares about and lifts her up, carrying the orphan away, she is saved. Brun, the bold leader of the clan, her brother, is not happy , but lets Ayla stay, her other sibling Creb, the powerful spiritual chief of the band, that the rest of the tribe is afraid of, not just because he was born deformed, he radiates menace, half his body is effected, a cripple, only a lone leg works properly, and one piercing eye, on his hideous face, these three rule the Neanderthals, and Broud, the son of Brun, the heir apparent... Maybe because the helpless girl is from a strange, mysterious, new people, Broud, takes an instant, quite insane hatred towards her, they don't resembles them, he thinks , a threat somehow, but for generations haven't been seen, until now, the Others, could compete later, for the scarce food supply, the wild animal herds that constantly roam the lonely steppes, by the cold glaciers from the north, they are always a danger too, and someday will start down again... killing everything in their path. Life is very precarious in the primitive, prehistorical times, the hunter- gatherers humans , do not survive for long, a continuous struggle, to keep warm, get an adequate amount of food and shelter, escape unknown illnesses, with no cures, safety doesn't exist, there is little compassion for strangers, especially from the "Others". Ayla must adopt to her new clan, The Clan of the Cave Bear, learn a different language, unfamiliar customs, pray to unseen spirits, fit in, to endure, she has no choice, but her blonde hair and tall stature, weird, unattractive face, to the rest of the band, will always remind the Neanderthals , ( less brutish and more intelligent than commonly believed ) she can never be like them...An interesting tale of an ancient, long gone era, but will we ever known how accurate this depiction is...
Where do I even start? In a tale that defies biology, geology, common sense and all belief, Jean M. Auel introduces us to a particularly disturbing self-insert in the form of Ayla, a Cro-Magnon girl who is raised by a tribe of doltish Neanderthals.
Not only is Ayla strong, beautiful (though she considers herself ugly and believes that nobody could ever love her) and talented, she's also a virtual genius. Over the course of the series she invents or discovers Give her a few more books and she'll probably be splitting the atom.
But if you enjoy this, you'll love the second book, where she
Ayla may be one of the most annoying literary characters in existence.
This book and the series that follows is endearing, troublesome, and whole-heartedly compassionate. This is the book my grandmother read to me as a little girl during the middle of a tornado, while we waited out the storm by candlelight. This is the book that started me reading... really reading. I learned that I can love my quiet time, and apparently I love stories on the ancient human race... our beginnings. The ways of survival, ways of development, natural medicine, culture and anthropology. The flavor of this book is 'tribal', but the sentiment and the moral is, "the totem that chooses you can present many hardships and challenges, but the gifts are worth it."
I have hardly ever read a novel that was both so entertaining and so educational
Schools could skip a longer part of history by just giving this novel to the pupils. Described by the view of a young girl, the progress of the development of culture is shown uniquely. The average Stone Age fantasy novel may include war, monsters, an epic love story, etc. In this case, the slow telling shows the functioning of a forming society, it´s mechanisms and the rise of intelligence that leads to complex societies.
4.0 Stars This was such a unique historical fantasy exploring what life may have been like in the prehistoric age. The story is very low in terms of magic, which is explored through the spiritualism of the tribe. This was a very immersive story and I would certainly be interested to continue on with the later books.
A disappointment. The concept is interesting, especially in light of recent archaeological evidence suggesting that Neandertals and Cro-Magnons (anatomically modern humans) may have interbred. However, the execution is extremely poor. The pacing is uneven, the prose is so flowery it hurts, and the characters are flat. Some other things that bothered me: --The author has the tendency to "info-dump", frequently disrupting the flow of the story to deliver lengthy descriptions of plants, rocks, characters' appearances, etc. I understand that setting is important here, as most readers aren't likely to be familiar with the flora and fauna of Ice Age Europe. In that regard, it's obvious that she did her research, but I felt the depiction could have been done better; maybe if the prose weren't so purple, or if she didn't describe the same caves, valleys, and plants over and over again, I wouldn't have minded so much. --The repetition. Oh lord, the repetition. Constant reiterations of how different Ayla is, how special, how strange, how unique, blah blah blah. Yes, she is different from the people of the Clan (I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say her belonging to a different species might have something to do with that), WE GET IT, MOVE ON. --Faulty science. Somewhere near the beginning of the book, Auel makes some kind of reference to the size of the Clan members' (Neandertals) heads being related to how much knowledge they can hold. At first, this seems to make some sort of sense, as the size of the skull influences brain size (although brain size and intelligence are not directly correlated--Neandertals' brains were actually larger than ours, though we have no way of knowing how smart they were). But later on she states that this is the reason they cannot progress technologically--because their brains, and therefore their skulls, would have to get larger in order to learn new things, and if their heads get too large, childbirth will become impossible. Honey, that is just not how it works. Does your brain get bigger every time you learn something new? No? Didn't think so. There are also numerous references to "the memories"--knowledge of ceremonies, traditions, skills and Clan history that Clan members are apparently born with. They also have some kind of mystical abilities to access and share the memories of their ancestors stored in their own minds. Though it makes for an intriguing storytelling element, this notion is historically and scientifically ridiculous. It isn't possible for someone to be born with memories or cultural knowledge--culture is learned, and memories are gathered through personal experience. If this were a fantasy book, the mystical story elements would make more sense. But Clan of the Cave Bear isn't a fantasy (supposedly). I found it in the historical fiction section of the library, and I've seen it listed as historical fiction everywhere else I've looked. Just as ludicrous were Auel's assertions that the Clan people are capable of speech but not laughter (fossil evidence suggests that Neandertals did had the capacity for vocal communication, and if they can speak, there's no reason why they should be unable to laugh), and incapable of crying. These were merely plot devices to make Ayla stand out, but the absolute lack of logic in these distinctions makes me wonder if Auel put any thought at all into why they should exist. --All of the Neandertal characters have dark hair, skin and eyes, whereas Ayla is blonde, blue-eyed and fair-skinned. I suppose I should give Auel a break on this one, since the book was written in the 1980s, while technology that made it possible to sequence Neandertal DNA--which led to the discovery that some of them possessed the genes coding for fair skin and red or blond hair--wasn't available until a few years ago. Still, I sensed a white supremacist agenda. Ayla, the "golden-haired goddess" is so much better at everything than the people of the Clan, she seems to bring them luck, everything is better with her around, and anyone who treats her badly receives divine retribution.
First review of the year! Very interesting and entertaining, not sure how accurate but i feel like a learned alot. Who really knows what neanderthal were like? but I'm sure it's well researched and included all the knowledge available in the 1980's. The Clan of the cave bear main flaw is predictability.
Ayla is a modern human left orphaned by an earthquake. She is on the verge of death when she is adopted by a neanderthal clan (the clan of the cave bear.) She is really lucky because the woman who adopts her is the head medicine woman of the top clan in the area. this is like being adopted by royalty. Even if the clan has no royalty, it is VERY status oriented. Iza is sister of the clan leader and the clan magician, and they believe her lucky from the beginning. Just because Ayla got a good shake doesn't mean she has an easy time. Afterall, she is so ugly tall, blonde, and light eyed. Yeah, ugly is relative! Worse of all she gains an enemy the leader's son and one day leader Broud. Who is a real small minded male. There's a feminist undercurrent to this i enjoyed and thought aged well after 40 years. Ayla grow up and learns to be a medicine woman herself. performing a ceremony at the clan gathering that happens every 7 years. which was my favorite part of the book. she even has a baby half modern human half Neanderthal. Her son Dirk maybe the future of the human race. i have seen a nova special proposing interbreeding as the answer to what happened to the Neanderthals. Still not sure about that but the theory reflects modern sensibilities. Unfortunately, Broud becomes leader and casts Ayla out of the clan at the end setting up the next book!
Overall, i found the writing entertaining but not compelling. i want to read all 6 in the series but I'm not in a hurry. so, i think I'll make it last and read one a year based on season.
Suddenly, with a magician's flourish, he produced a skull. He held it high over his head with his strong left arm and turned slowly around in a complete circle so each man could see the large, distinctive, high-domed shape. The men stared at the cave bear's skull glowing whitely in the flickering light of the torches.
Contemporary anthropology can be pretty confusing, and science may have disproved some of what’s on display here, but this novel does feel like it was well researched at any rate, so let’s leave it at that. It’s still just a story, and an historical-fantasy at that.
“The child has a totem, a strong totem. We just don't know what it is.”
And we all know the story by now. Cro-Magnon girl is orphaned by earthquake and is adopted by Neanderthal clan: drama and intrigue follows. It’s no surprise that emphasis is laid on the differences, and perceived differences, between H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens.
(I found the “Caveman” names quite typical, and amusing: Eg. Grod, Droog, Groob, Crug and for obvious reasons, Durc.)
This book was pretty huge back in its day. It also seems to be provoking all kinds of debate. The reviews on goodreads alone make for interesting reading, and more than a little contradiction. Is the book racist? Is the book sexist? Is the book factually correct?
More to the point: is the book any good?
He had a sudden understanding of the gulf between the mind of this girl and his own, and it shook him.
The intimacies of clan interaction does have a terrifically epic backdrop in prehistoric (paleolithic) Europe and something that the author conveys quite well is the solitude; you really do get the idea that there are not many people around. However, expect a bit of an infodump: there are pages and pages of depictions of plants and their medicinal properties. If you can skip-read over these, you’ll read the book in half the time I did (I compulsively read everything).
She was part of nature's new experiment, and though she tried to model herself after the women of the clan, it was only an overlay, a facade only culture-deep, assumed for the sake of survival.
It’s an interesting story, but also somewhat cyclical, with some events seemingly repeated in some form or other throughout the story. Season follows season; day to day depictions of paleolithic Neanderthal life serving as backdrop for the pissing contest between Ayla and Broud; wash, rinse, repeat.
Something that reviewers seem to be skirting around is the rape scene depicted in the story. I found it fairly brutal, given the context (the victim is a 10-year girl), even if it does serve to move the story along. I would have expected the author to exhibit a modicum of sensitivity in the prose, but alas. The reason I’m mentioning this incident specifically is because it did influence my reading experience. Perhaps this is the idea, to set a more sinister tone for the rest of the novel.
We don't know why your totem has led you to follow that ancient path, but we cannot deny the Spirit of the Cave Lion; it must be allowed.
In the end, it’s testament to the staying power of the novel that I still enjoyed it despite its shortcomings. With a tweak here and an edit there it could have been great; as it is it’s still very good.
3.5 Stars Read as part of the must-read agreement with my wife – 2015
You know what...this has been on my 'to-read' list for years... years and years and years, and yet I only just got to it... WELL It was worth the wait!
This is the story of a young child called Ayla who is born over 35,000 years ago during Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon times. Ayla is a Cro-Magnon who is adopted by a group of Neanderthal people when they find her stranded and abandoned after heavy snowfall and a great Earthquake. Ayla has managed to get to a Cave where she was chased by (but evaded) a Cave Lion. Many of the Neanderthals in this story believe in the Gods and signs/omens from their Totems, one of these being the great Cave Lion who is mighty beyond nearly all others. As this young girl has been marked by a Cave Lion and survived, they deem it acceptable (even positive) to take her along with them.
Ayla is taken with the Clan (as they call themselves) to a new cave far from the place where the Quake happened and she lost her own people. At first, the others in the Clan are afraid of her blue eyes and the water she produces when she's sad, but as the time and later the years go by she becomes integrated into their small community. This is the story of her culture clashing and melding with theirs. It's what happens when two entirely different races and culture meet in the form of one young girl, and it's the story of how Ayla defied everything they could ever have anticipated for her.
What I truly loved about this story was the poise and clarity that Auel gives these characters. There's evidently a lot of reserach that went into these characters and they do feel like highly plausible beings who may once have walked our very same Earth. At many points in the story Auel points out various problems with anatomy, struggles with ideas, and challenges of build that both the Clan and Ayla have respectively. It made me really start to think how things that seem so basic and simple and easy to us today are the products of years and ages of evolution and development from beings much like these.
Auel's writing reminds me of Lois McMaster Bujold's fantasy, J.V. Jones (though maybe this is more interms of setting than prose) and even Robin Hobb to some extent. I think all of these authors share something about the quality and unique authenticity of their writings, and it just registers with me really well.
I loved the character of Ayla right from the start, probably becuase she is much more like me and has many of the traits that will no doubt develop into humanity as we know it today. Ayla is resourceful and filled with a desire to develop and learn and be excited by the world, something the Clan find hard to comprehend let alone to emanate.
Of course the magic described by Auel is certainly imagined more than researched, but there may well be grains of the truth scattered in. The idea of gods and Totem animals as guiding factors for life certainly seem plausible as belief systems for societies like this one, and even the rituals and strange occurrences could relate to magic. I really enjoyed the creativity and ingenuity Auel bought to the Clan and their magic, and I feel like it worked really well as a vital part of the story and culture for this world.
Honestly, I could go on for quite some time with all the things I completely loved about this book but I think I'll finish by saying it's great and you should read it for yourself. I am so glad that there are quite a few more in the series as I have a feeling I am going to love the rest too, and I can't wait to read them. 5*s
This was a fantastic book. I read it in 7th grade, and was absolutely obsessed with it (which is nothing less than stunning, because at that age most books that lacked dragons weren't worth my time...). In a way its perfect for around that age, because its all about struggling for acceptance and trying to learn the social norms of a society. But really, everybody has dealt with those issues, and will be able to empathize with the characters. And the setting is so unique, the writing so vibrant, that I imagine most people will find themselves engaged.
The rest of the series isn't nearly as good. Valley of the Horses is fun but lacking the depth. I stopped reading them after the third book in the series.
Re-read July 2020. Still a 5 star read, this series will never get old.
I read this for the first time years ago and although there's absolutely zero romance at all, not even a hero (that comes in the next book .... Jondalar, be still my beating heart!), sometimes the story is just that good romance doesn't need to feature, this is one of those.
I adored this book, and still do after re-reads. A truly amazing, captivating and fascinating series that will stay at the very top of my all time favourites list.
"[Ayla] was a woman, and she had more courage than you...more determination, more self-control"
Ayla is a five year old child when an earthquake forces her to flee her destroyed home and her dead parents. Iza, the medicine woman of the Clan of the Cave Bear, stumbles upon her and takes her under her wing, but Broud, the proud son of the clan leader, Brun, takes an immediate disliking to the young non-Clan girl. Ayla grows up among the clan and struggles to find her place.
I've heard so much about this series of books, particularly with the most recent (and apparently last of the series??) release of The Land of Painted Caves. While I had read that that book wasn't so hot, I did read reviews that praised the first few books. So I went out and got my hands on an audiobook of the first in the Earth's Children series.
First off, I have to give kudos to Auel for all the research and time she put into this novel. This woman didn't go, "I'm going to write a pre-historic novel" and then just throw in some almost modern humans in a wallpaper world. This book transports you back before cars and computers, before women's rights and civil rights, into a fantasy realm of what the world might have been like before the modern age. It was vibrant and meticulously detailed. I loved how the Others could speak but the Clan could not; how the Clan could access memories but were bad at new innovations while the opposite was true of the Others. A lesser author, like I said, would have seen the work needed and given up; Auel pushed on and produced a damn fine novel.
Besides the vibrant setting, the characters were detailed and intricate. My favorites were Iza and Creb, but I also liked Ayla herself, Brun, and Ooba (sp?). I liked how Iza embraced Ayla and was thoughtful enough to pass along the medicine woman trade, trying to think of Ayla's future. Iza was a warm, loving, kind-hearted, strong woman. Creb was fantastic. I thought he was sweet and kind, a good father-figure for Ayla, and I loved the comparisons between him and Ayla and between him and Ayla's son, Dirk. Ayla was a great character; she grows so much throughout the book. She tries to find her place in the clan; she is constantly testing the boundaries, but not because she is always defiant. Ayla is just not Clan; she is of the Others, and that breeding comes through. I liked the differences that she accented between Clan and Others: speech, crying, differences in body shape (I really liked how the Clan had a different perception of beauty). There were a few times when she (or her son) got really close to that Mary Sue line--the amount of times she breaks rules and is able to keep from being killed is pretty astonishing. However, I think Ayla did have enough faults, and was legitimately punished enough that I didn't focus on it too much. (I wonder, though, how far it is into the series before her turn to Mary Sue-ism comes is complete.) Brun was a great strong leader; he listened to his people, but wasn't afraid of action, afraid of punishment. And Ooba became such a sweet, loving sister to Ayla. I couldn't help but think of me and my sister when I read about the two.
The story meanders along Ayla's life, her struggles to become Clan, and her tension with Broud. I loved how she learned to hunt with a sling, and I liked how she became a good medicine woman, how she would drop everything to try to save someone's life. I got to learn so much in this book, my mind was bent to new depths--what would life be like living in a cave? What was the world like before?
If anything about the story bugged me, it would be the sudden departures into talking about mixing medicines. As I said above, I loved the research Auel put into this book; that said, inserting several passages ONLY to show what plants mixed with what roots would make a cure for this ailment got old. Fast. Fortunately, there were not TOO many of these scenes, but there were enough to be noteworthy.
Also, there is quite a bit of violence/abuse in this novel. Women are basically treated like property. Men can beat women and be completely justified--this happens to Ayla quite a few times in the book. Men also can force a woman to have sex whenever the desire hits them--even if the woman is not their wife. Again, this happens to Ayla quite a bit, in a rather uncomfortable rape montage (nothing is too graphic, however). While I am sure this is more realistic than having Clan women burning their bras (or whatever they would have used for bras), it is not for everyone and was rather uncomfortable at times to listen to. Sometimes, I wanted to smack some sense into these Clan men--how dare you treat someone like that! Being female does NOT mean being stupid and being unable to think for yourself! Ultimately, I appreciated how Auel did NOT resort to writing the Clan as if they were wise, with modern sensibilities about feminism...but I still hated the abuse.
I honestly cannot wait to start reading the next book. I am desperate to know what happens to Ayla...does she meet up with her people? Does she find a mate? I've read enough reviews to know some of the answers to my questions, but that doesn't make me any less eager to read for myself. I greatly enjoyed reading this prehistoric journey, and I definitely recommend--with the caveat that there is some abuse/violence to be on the lookout for.
This book was powerful for me. It brought to life a world disappeared by more than 10,000 years. Ayla is such an inspiration and strong woman. I love her dedication to life and to her tribe and to herself. I love that she became a medicine woman. This book is one of a kind.
It was long and maybe just a little too descriptive at times... but incredibly creative. I couldn't put it down. Also, I listened to the audiobook. Narrator was okay, but read a bit fast and with without enough inflection at times... this got better as the story progressed. All in all a fabulous read. Looking forward to book two.
I checked out this audiobook because I knew it was a bestseller a few decades ago, and I figured that since it was a bestseller, it must be good. Oh, how wrong we can be at times.
I hate to slam books because I know authors put a lot of work into them, but I have to do it this time. This book was bad for so many reasons. First, there was a lot of repetition and needless detail. A couple hundred pages could have been cut from the manuscript without changing the story at all. How many times did we need to hear why Broud hated Ayla? Or that people feared Creb? And for people who didn’t speak with their mouths, the author certainly gave us a lot of redundant chitchat.
If these had been the books only sins, I could have forgiven them. But here’s the thing, the author created this horrible, abusive, downright evil society and then wanted us to like and care about the characters. Here’s the life of the clan in a nutshell: They horribly abuse women. Women have no rights, can only speak to a man if he allows it, can be beaten or killed for any small offence, (Such as not getting pregnant, making a man lose face, disobeying a man, being insolent to a man, resisting rape, or not killing her baby when the leader tells her to.)
Clan life also includes cannibalism (but they do it with the utmost reverence—the author tells us), abortion, infanticide, rape, incest, dancing that verges on erotic (the author tells us twice in case we forgot it the first time) and drug use. A woman is required to have sex with any man who wants it, and free love is practiced. They view sex as a natural practice, the author told us more than once, and no one in the clan thought anything of children having sex. Hello--creepy. Ayla is an outsider, whose parents were killed in an earthquake. The clan found her when she was five and near death. Iza, the medicine woman takes her in and makes Ayla her daughter.
So the story is about Ayla learning clan ways and getting beaten regularly (and at one point nearly to death) by Broud, the clan chief’s son.
I kept reading/listening because I figured the story was going to be about Ayla escaping from the clan and their abusive ways. I thought she would go find her only people.
In Ayla’s tenth year, Broud rapes Ayla brutally and every day. Her clan mother and father know this—everyone knows it because it happens out in public. And no one does anything to help her. They don’t think it’s wrong—because women have no rights.
Okay, at that point in the book, nothing could redeem these people, and I only kept listening because I was hoping that a comet would strike them all, wipe them out, and Ayla would get to move on. But nom it just kept getting worse. She gets pregnant, has a baby that looks like her (not of the clan) and so she runs away so she won’t have to kill it.
At last, I thought, Ayla has seen this society as evil and will escape from them. No again. She goes back, repentant and ready to die for her disobedience.
Really? Come on.
And the author keeps putting us in the mind of the Ayla’s mother and father and the clan leader—telling us that they’re really good people. No, no they aren’t. They’re horrible. It made me cringe that Ayla felt so bad about doing things that disappointed them. Like, Oh, I was so wrong to disappoint you with some minor offense, and now you feel badly about having to curse me.
I don’t think you can always draw conclusions about an author from their books, but this one made me wonder if the author suffered an abusive background and was trying to work out—and justify—the abuse. I’ve heard more than one victim defending their abusers. They have a hard time understanding that their abusers are bad people and they themselves shouldn’t have to live with the abuse.
Luckily the audiobook was easy to skip through, so I didn’t have to listen through every minute of the book to find out what happened. I wanted to know if Ayla ever came t her senses and got away from these people.
Spoiler Alert: Broud becomes chief, takes her child away from her and demotes her father. When she complains/begs him not to do this he has the clan magician put a death curse on her.
I should take a moment to explain the death curse. Even though the clan has been around for 100,000 years, they aren’t all that bright. For example, they have never figured out that sex causes babies or that a baby inherits characteristics from his mother and father. You would have thought someone during all of those centuries would have noticed this basic part of life, but apparently not.
They do, however, think that if the magician curses you, you are instantly dead. The person they still see standing in front of them is an evil spirit who is there only to lure them into the spirit world. They won’t talk to, acknowledge, or touch the evil spirit.
So in the last scene when Ayla is cursed, she knows she has to go find somewhere else to live. At this point, I would have been happy had she taken out her sling and used it on Broud. That would have been a satisfying ending. After all, she’s good with the sling and she’s already dead, so what can the clan do to her? They think she’s a spirit so they’re afraid to touch her. Perfect revenge.
In fact, she should have killed Broud, and then taken her baby before leaving.
The author, unfortunately, overlooked this overdue but nonetheless satisfying ending in favor of more victimhood. Ayla challenges Broud to hit her. (That will make up for, um, nothing.) She tells him he can take everything away from her including her baby, but he can’t make her die.
Well, I guess that showed him. He totally got his comeuppance. The End. I really have no idea why this book was so popular.
Girl power in the age of Neanderthals I had not expected it at all, but I enjoyed reading this, because as a story this is quite strong. Auel has made a tremendous creative effort to reconstruct the Neanderthals' world, based on what was known at the time of publication in 1980, and she has woven an original and dramatic storyline around it, including many own interpretations anf fantasy elements, of course. With main character Ayla, the Sapiens girl who was found by the Neanderthal tribe and grows up with them, she actually puts a clear feminist accent. This is also manifestly a political novel, in which the thoughtful tribal leader Brun is contrasted with the rash incoming leader Broud.
Especially the psychological side of the novel is extraordinarily strong. This is evident in the passages in which the characters muse about their own feelings and those of others in the clan, about how they best handle certain situations and how they can or cannot reconcile long and short term. There is clearly also a teacher in Auel, because she gives a lot of attention to explaining special features of clan life, such as the magical ceremonies, the techniques for hunting or using medicinal plants. But sometimes she exaggerates, which slows down the story. From a historical and scientifical point of view, her book doesn’t hold on: her Neanderthal world contains too much fantasy-elements. But her basic intuition, namely that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens have interbred in the meanwhile has been confirmed by paleo-genetic research. More on these historical aspects in my History-account on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....
I circled around this series for a long time, unable to decide if it was something I was interested in or not. However it's been recommended to me many times, so I began to pick up the book second hand over a few years - - as ever, it was the first books that I took a while to find.
It was an unexpectedly brilliant read. I thought I would enjoy it, I didn't go in with the idea that it would be dull or a waste of time, but I hadn't counted on the intensity of it. It's got a soap opera feel to it in some ways maybe, but it's done in an epic, rather believable (for this reader at least) way. Of course everything is dramatic, and like many books the heroine experiences a dizzyingly vast array of disasters and misfortunes. It's not really a spoiler to say that she loses her entire family, and all her people, right at the beginning. And then wanders lost and starving. And then is attacked by a cave lion - and at this point the book is just getting started. But I bought into it all, and was riveted.
This was a very creative book, filling in history that in many ways is unknowable with ideas that make sense. Ayla's life with the Neanderthal Clan who find her is endlessly fascinating, and I especially loved anything featuring Creb, my favourite character.
There are harrowing details aplenty, violence of all kinds, including sexual, lots of hunting (which I had expected) and an environment that is harsh but also beautiful. I noticed some readers don't love the information heavy aspects of the novel, but for me these were a highlight. I realise these books are fiction, so I'm not claiming this series will make me any kind of expert, but the author has clearly done her research and her passion for the knowledge she has accumulated and woven into her story shows. I spent a lot of time Googling various things she mentioned, and that in itself added to my level of involvement in the world she was building
I also didn't expect the hunting scenes to be so interesting. Although I have no desire to follow suit, it was incredible to read about the hunts, and even learning something about ancient weapons. It's not all killing, there is much focus on gathering as well, and herbal medicine, which was interesting and was another topic I was looking up online as I read.
The initially small ways in which Ayla began to grow into herself, and push back against the Clan was inspiring. When she began hunting in secret, practicing with her slingshot until she was better than the men, I cheered her on, while feeling a great deal of worry for her. I also had sympathy for the clan. As time goes on the differences between Ayla and her adopted family become more stark. Yet neither are truly at fault - they are simply different.
Well, I say neither are truly at fault, but in reality, Broud cannot be excused by mere difference. He is a bully - and I could use many other, stronger words to describe him. I'll stick with bastard. I realise most stories have a villain. Jean M. Auel really delivered with this one. Some people might find the repeated rape difficult to read (I did and I am not overly sensitive [I don't think] about these things, especially historical fiction) but I also think realistically this would have been a weapon used. It still is a weapon used. However, if this a topic you struggle with, I would skip this book.
When Ayla eventually has her son, I knew, as I'm sure most readers did too, especially when it becomes clear what a good mother she is and how devoted she is, that she was likely to be separated from this child somehow. I was anticipating this, and it was still an emotional blow when it finally happened. In some ways having the echo of the opening of the novel was a little on the nose, yet I also thought it worked. And this time, though alone again, Ayla is not a little girl, she is skilled, capable, and has been told to search for her own people. There is a kind of hope in that ending - and I was glad I had a copy of the second book to resume the story!
There were many other things I loved - the relationship between Ayla and her adopted mother, Iza and the information Iza shares with Ayla about medicine and healing. I loved the landscapes, the family dynamics, the spiritual ceremonies, even if one did make me feel physically sick. Most of all I loved the totems, spirit animals and the signs. I am someone who is rather practical in may ways, but also drawn to things like signs, and Ayla's experience with the signs that guide her was oddly resonant (though I've never had to contend with a cave lion) as was the attitude she took to keep herself going during the gruelling challenges she faced. In a way I think the novel focuses on resilience, and perhaps learning some independence. But it's also set up so she will use that independence to find her people, so it's not this idea that you don't need anybody, but maybe that you shouldn't be entirely dependent on them. Or maybe I am over-thinking it!
Anyway, I loved this book. It's taken me months to review it (eleven months actually), so I've probably left out points I originally intended to make, but do remember a fair bit, especially that I read this at an ideal time, and it was clarifying and enlightening about things in my life that were utterly unrelated to the novel, yet were heavily influenced by it anyway. I am grateful to Jean M. Auel for that, and also for writing a hugely entertaining and interesting story.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I came to The Clan of the Cave Bear at the Mission Viejo Library when the novel I'd wanted next -- The Witching Hour by Anne Rice -- was out. Wandering the hardcover fiction, a row of books at eye level with thick, colorful spines and the same author snared my attention. Published in 1980, this bestseller launched five sequels, a maligned film adaptation in 1986 and became an industry onto Jean M. Auel, whose published fiction has been dedicated solely to this Ice Age series.
Set in the late Pleistocene Epoch as many as 35,000 years ago and in an area that looks suspiciously like the present day Crimean Peninsula, of all places, The Clan of the Cave Bear begins with a 5-year-old girl named Ayla whose tribe is wiped out in an earthquake while she's off swimming in a stream. After nearly becoming a meal of the cave lions, Ayla is found starving and badly wounded by a tribe of wanderers who've also been displaced by the quake.
Brown haired, stocky and bow legged, the leader of the wanderers, Brun, recognizes Ayla as one of "The Others", a tribe that's blonde haired, lean and tall. Communicating with sign language and grunts as much as words, Brun ignores Ayla ("Not clan") but his medicine woman, a 30 year old senior citizen named Iza, takes pity on the girl and brings her back from the dead. The wanderers are desperately in search of shelter and it's Ayla who directs Iza's attention to a perfect cave.
One of the chief reasons to read the novel is Auel's credible portrayal of Ayla as the ultimate outsider, the First Outsider, who grows to maturity with the sense that she's different from everyone else and struggles to find her purpose. Ayla looks other clan members in the eye, a major faux pas for a woman. Her physique permits her the ability to swim, which she uses to save the life of a clan member from drowning.
Ayla's curiosity also leads her to teach herself how to use a sling and hunt with it, a crime punishable by death when the offender is a woman. Auel mines a great deal of tension by pitting Ayla against Broud, the ill-tempered son of Brun and heir apparent to the clan's leadership who is deeply offended by Ayla's ways and engages her in a battle of wills. I kept reading because I wanted to see the moment Ayla stood up for herself and went all Tina Turner to Ike, in this case, Broud.
Auel's research (begun in 1977 in consultation with numerous experts) offers interesting glimpses into prehistoric survival, the work of female gatherers preparing foods and medicines, and the work of male hunters tracking and killing game, most memorably, a trek north to hunt mammoth. My attention waned when it came to descriptions of religious rites where there seemed to be far less at stake (no chance of anyone getting injured or killed).
While the characters have forgotten more about the natural world than you or I will ever know, their weakness is a shortened life span; Ayla reaches womanhood and achieves status as Woman Who Hunts by age 10. I found the biology of the characters to be unique, a facet lost in the film version with Daryl Hannah, 25 years old and 5'10", cast in the role of Ayla.
The major weakness of The Clan of the Cave Bear is Auel's geriatric writing, which is plodding, and tells and tells and tells. I consider myself intelligent enough to imagine what characters are thinking or feeling by how they act and what they say to each other. I scanned the last 100 pages. There was simply not enough at stake -- at no point does the reader consider Auel's heroine might be killed -- and the author's visible attempt at writing kept me from becoming absorbed in the world she was creating.
Fortunately, writing takes a back seat for me. I can excuse a lot of telling versus showing if the author creates a compelling character, builds a fantastic world and dares me to put down the book without knowing what's going to happen to the character. I'm recommending this to readers with an interest in the prehistoric world or an interest in how to build a series. I can't say Auel hooked me into reading the sequels, but for a debut novel, this is a good one.