Title: The Clan of the Cave Bear
Author: Jean M. Auel
Series: Earth's Children, book 1
Genre: Historical fiction
Recommendation: Good read for those who like character-driven stories with more depth than action.
Summary: Everything Ayla knows is destroyed by an earthquake. The starving 5-year old girl is picked up by the Clan of the Cave Bear who are looking for a new home. The story follows Ayla as she grows within the Clan, as one of them, but very different at the same time.
Reactions: The Clan of the Cave Bear is a pretty unusual book. It's set in 30,000BC and deals with the interaction of Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal race. The main character is a Cro-Magnon orphan adopted by a clan of Neanderthals. She comes to live with them and learns their ways, but never quite fits into their society.
The book is very detailed showing the societal structure, culture, and technology of Neanderthals. While I don't know how much of it is accurate, most of it sounds at the very least plausible. A lot of the observations on the society are quite interesting. There are three characters who stand out in their roles within the clan. The Mogur, Creb, is the clan's magician of whom everyone is scared as he is the only one capable of dealing with the unpredictable spirits. The Leader, Brun, is an excellent hunter and logician who thinks about the benefits of the clan before everything else. The Medicine Woman, Iza, is one of a long line of medicine women and has a status of her own due to her usefulness. Each one is particularly good at their role to contrast their foils. Clearly painted as villain is Broud who is Brun's son and heir apparent, but very different in character from his father.
Ayla stands out from the rest of the clan members. She looks different. She is able to make many more sounds while Clan members mostly talk in gestures. She is the only one who can cry or laugh. In many ways, the author clearly extols the virtues of Cro-Magnon race in comparison with the Clan. Ayla is capable of everything: she learns medicine, she learns to hunt, she is a mother, and she is more stoic than anyone else. I really liked Ayla as a character, but sometimes I felt the author was overdoing the contrasts.
The book itself is hardly fast paced. More than half of the 500 pages detail the surroundings or descriptions of Clan's mundane activities. The amount of dialog increases as the book progresses, but at the beginning the pacing is pretty slow and it never really speeds up a whole lot.
Overall it was a pretty good reading experience. I enjoyed the main character and the thematic material of the book. Still deciding on whether I'd want to pick up the next book in the series since the reading of the next one is likely to go as slowly and this one has taken me almost 3 weeks to complete. Still, I don't regret spending the time on it.