Ayla, a five-year old Cro-Magnon girl is the sole survivor of an earthquake that destroys her family’s camp – leaving her homeless, orphaned, and nearing starvation. Only discovery by a band of Neanderthal nomads who call themselves “the Clan” saves her life, when at the urging of Iza, their medicine woman, they adopt her as one of their own. But of course Ayla is not like the Clan, and the differences, both physical and cognitive, will have devastating consequences.
Having heard of the Clan of the Cave Bear series from many friends over the years, I always intended to read the books but only got around to it in the last year, having heard a sixth book was being published. I love historical fiction – well researched, meticulous historical fiction – and in that regard Clan of the Cave Bear did not disappoint. While more recent archaeological evidence suggests the portrayal of the Clan may not be entirely accurate (they may in fact have been able to speak, for example) this was discovered after the original publication in 1980.
While I greatly enjoyed reading it and have gone on to read books 2 and 3, with plans to finish the series, I also did not love it as so many do. Perhaps, as so often happens, it was ruined a bit by years and years of people telling me it was the best book ever. That’s hard to live up to.
I found the violence and mating descriptions overly repetitive, to the point that they were almost embarrassing to read.They just didn’t seem to fit, as if forced into the narrative somewhat. It’s hard to explain; any readers out there agree with me? I also have very little time for any theory of genetic memory, so the idea of the Clan having a shared, prehistoric memory turned me off a little. I can stretch my imagination quite far if you can convince me even a little bit that something is possible. If I believe it is impossible, you are out of luck.
Still, as someone who loves history, and was recently fascinated by the chance to visit prehistoric hominid sites in Africa, I was thrilled to find a novel that focused on pre-homo-sapien humans, and treated them as people, not animals, not merely half-humans.
If you love a historical saga as much as I do, you really should check this out. And if you are a biology grad who is sticky about genetics, just glaze over the shared memory bit, and remember that it is fiction, after all.
Mass Market Paperback: 544 pages
Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (Nov 1 1984)