Publisher: Hutchinson 2013
Price: INR 406
Fifteen year old Alexander Cold has grown up in a sweet little quiet town in California with his parents and younger sisters. His life has been that of a normal teenager but when his mother falls sick with cancer, Alex is sent to live with his formidably unconventional grandmother Kate in New York. Kate is a celebrated writer cum explorer cum fortune-hunter of sorts having been all around the world. When Alex arrives at her apartment on Fourteenth Street and Second Avenue, she tells him of a project that International Geographic has assigned her to and which she is currently engaged in. It involves “the Beast”, a monster found in the Amazon rainforest with an odor so strong that is known to paralyze and even kill those who smell it. They have to leave immediately and Alex is left no choice but to tag along on the expedition.
After plenty of homesickness and self-pitying, he eventually begins to show interest in the adventure when thirteen year old Nadia, the daughter of another expedition member, befriends him with her pet monkey. She introduces him to the ways of the jungle and they quickly become friends. When they come across a scheme between a native and a rich entrepreneur, who are part of the expedition, to kill the natives of the area so that it can be used for mining, they decide to try to thwart the plan – a goal that becomes even more important when they are taken hostage by the People of the Mist, an Indian tribe that still live in accord with nature and have not come across the frivolities and pitfalls of modern society and who also possess the power to turn themselves invisible. In due course they get to know the tribes people and the tribes people them, pushing Alex and Nadia to find the Beast on their own, travelling to the interiors of the forest with the help of the shaman of the tribe towards El Dorado, a mythical city of gold.
Isabel Allende is the niece of Salvador Allende, a prominent former president of Chile. Fans of series such as Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl will be pleased to know that Allende succeeds in creating a piece of work that centers around adventure and discovery (both personal and superior), transcending the realities of the real world. Many critics have disregarded the book for being too juvenile and self-indulgent in nature but the book is a lot deeper and evocative than what meets the eye at first. It is just a disguise for what comes ahead.
Guaranteed with its clear big font and unembellished narrative, readers might disregard the book as that of a child’s fairytale but if you plow on ahead Allende gives you enough of the infamous magical realism that she is so well known for. Before the reader might realize, the haze is lifted and you’re left in the middle of the heat and sweat of the jungle leaving you dazed and confused, albeit in a really warm way. City of the Beasts has such mass appeal that even readers who like realistic fiction will be satisfied by the outcome because Allende blends fantasy and fiction with such graceful ease.
Overall Rating: 6.5/10