The Clan of the Cave Bear is the first book in the Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel.
Summary (from back of book)
The first novel in Jean M. Auel’s magnificent epic of life on the glacial continent of the last Ice Age, when two kinds of human beings, Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon, shared the earth.
Its heroine is Ayla, a courageous and indomitable young woman whose story beings when she is a five-year-old orphan adopted by the Clan, a group of Neanderthal.
Ayla inspires first surprise, then wariness and finally acceptance by the Clan. She is cared for by its medicine woman Iza and its wise holy man Creb. But she makes an implacable enemy of the group’s future leader. Broud does all he can to destroy her, but Ayla is a survivor.
“Accept her into the clan! She’s not Clan, she was born to the Others. Who said anything about accepting her into the clan? It wouldn’t be allowed, Ursus won’t like it. It’s never been done before!” Brun objected. “I wasn’t thinking of making her one of us, I only wondered if the spirits would allow her to live with us until she gets older.”
“Iza saved her life, Brun, she carries part of the girl’s spirit now, that makes her part Clan. She came close to walking in the next world, but she’s alive now. That’s almost the same as being born again, born to the Clan.”
I absolutely adore this series, and The Clan of the Cave Bear as the first book in it is simply magnificent. I have read this book (and the subsequent instalments) so many times, and as soon as I open the covers I am transported back in time to the last ice age. I find this period in time fascinating, and the amount of research that was carried out in order to make it as accurate as one can so many millennia later, is clear as soon as you begin reading. From descriptions of the landscape and the processes involved in their evolution, to plants and their medicinal properties, this book is rich in, and overflowing with, information and detail.
The characters were engaging, and Ayla’s adopted family – Iza, the clan’s medicine woman, and her brother, Creb, the mog-ur or spiritual leader of the group – were wonderful, and are my favourite characters after Ayla herself. Brun, as the strong but fair leader who often finds himself torn between tradition (which to the Clan means security) and something new (which they fear), deals compassionately with the problems Ayla’s presence gives rise to.
This story is packed full of emotional drama that left me in tears on more than one occasion. The storyline was captivating, and though you can work out how the book is going to end, it still comes as a bit of shock and is highly emotional. Ayla is a strong young woman with a desire to learn anything and everything, so that she is always growing and developing, and it is this, rather than the fact that she looks different that sets her apart from those around her.
The Clan of the Cave Bear is imaginative and unique, and the storytelling abilities of the author are amazing. We get to hear the story from the viewpoint of all the characters without it getting confusing, but we are also not in any doubt that the story is that of Ayla, a young orphaned girl taken in, raised and loved by a group of Neanderthals.
This book is one of my all-time favourite reads. I would recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction and are interested in the Palaeolithic. However, if you struggle reading great swathes of detailed description, this might not be the book for you. Also, it is worth remembering that although Auel extensively researched the book, it is ultimately a work of fiction not a science text book.