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Zorro Comes to Life in Allende's Latest

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The latest work of fiction by Isabel Allende takes us back into early 19th-century California and Spain. It brings to life the legendary romantic hero known as Zorro. Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE reporting:

The narrator of Isabel Allende's novel fills us in on the birth and early life of Diego de la Vega, later in life known as El Zorro, or the Fox. Son of a Spanish father and Shoshone Indian mother, de la Vega grows up on the Spanish mission in Monterrey and becomes steeped in the lore both of old California and okahue; honor, justice, respect, dignity and courage, the positive values of the indigenous peoples.

When he turns 16, his father ships him off to Barcelona for an Old World education. There, in the midst of the struggle between the Napoleonic occupiers and Spanish resistance fighters, de la Vega learns a great deal about politics, war and love, becomes initiated into a secret Spanish society dedicated to the rights of the underdog and transforms himself into Zorro, the sword-wielding, whip-slashing Fox, and leads some successful forays against the forces of reaction. He also falls madly in love and makes an enemy for life in the person of Rafael Moncada, his rival for the hand of the beautiful Juliana de Romeu, daughter of his Barcelona patron.

From that point on, his adventures rise to new heights. The action proceeds across northern Spain and then back to the New World, to the Caribbean, pirates included, New Orleans and California once again. Here, our hero, pursued by his nemesis Moncada and dedicated to the struggle against injustice, writes his own story in sweat, blood and tears and signs it with a neatly zigzagged letter that he marks with his sword in the flesh of his enemies, Z for Zorro. If this isn't the stuff of legend, I don't know what is. It also makes for a great couple of swashbuckling evenings keeping company with this entertaining book.

SIEGEL: The book is "Zorro" by Isabel Allende, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.