7. “City of the beasts” by Isabel Allende


Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2004 (translated from the Spanish, originally published in 2002)
Page count: 406 pages

Alexander Cold is 15 years old and lives in a quiet town in California with his parents and 2 younger sisters. When his mother, who has long been sick with cancer, has to go to Texas for treatment, Alex is sent to New York to stay with his fearsome and hugely eccentric grandmother, Kate. She lets him tag along to the Amazon where she has been commissioned by International Geographic to write a story about a mythical beast supposedly living in the rain forest.

Travelling up the Amazon from Manaus to Santa Maria de la Lluvia and further into the heart of the jungle, Alex and Nadia, the 13-year old daughter of their guide, find themselves in the midst of the adventure of a lifetime. They are kidnapped by the People of the Mist, an Indian tribe still living in harmony with nature and that has never before been exposed to modern civilization. Accompanied by the shaman of the tribe, Alex and Nadia travel inland to the mythical city of gold, El Dorado, seeking the means to protect the tribe and its way of life from the outside world.

“City of the beasts” is the first book in an adventure trilogy for young adults. I found it to be an exciting and somewhat surreal novel where especially the journey upriver is reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of darkness”, while still being recognizably “Allendesque” in its magical reality narrative style. I do, however, think that the book could have benefited from being less heavy-handed in the way Allende spoonfeeds the reader her ecological and moral message of protecting nature and the indigenous peoples of the world; young readers are more astute and capable of making up their own minds than Allende gives them credit for in this book. That minor complaint aside, though, this is a highly readable and enjoyable book, and I have every intention of reading the remaining books in the trilogy about Alex Cold.

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