Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean M. Auel
This was a total guilty pleasure for me when I first read it. (And not just this book, but the whole series.) I hadn’t thought of it in ages, but then I discovered that it’s on sale. So today, you get a review and a sale. Not too shabby.
At its heart, Clan of the Cave Bear is an ugly duckling story, set in a time when the precursors of modern humanity still lived alongside a competitive species. A little girl, Ayla, is orphaned and raised by the others, who are at once eerily similar and yet so very different. Most of them do not fully accept her–because she is not Clan. And so she learns not to accept herself.
I scanned the Goodreads reviews and was fascinated to see how many reviewers were caught up in the author’s anthropology. I didn’t worry much about the science, one way or another. It’s a work of fiction. I read it as fiction, and I loved it as fiction. (For the record, the reviewers were split roughly down the middle between screaming she got it wrong and proclaiming her genius in light of recent discoveries.)
What I loved most about the book was the hauntingly human struggle of grasping what it truly means to be different. That it is not less, nor is it more. Difference is, ultimately, what makes us unique. And in the right setting, it is what makes us strong. All of us. But until we learn that for ourselves, those differences can hurt like hell.
Which is why I found the read so addicting–because Ayla is a richly sympathetic character with a deeply relatable human problem. And that is what I love about science fiction: It uses fictional settings to highlight universal human struggles and paint them in a new light, teaching us to see with new eyes.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Is Clan of the Cave Bear a pulp fiction novel masquerading as science? Or does this page-turner have hidden depths that speak to the ways in which we treat each other? I’ll let you decide.
The ebook is only $2.99, for a limited time.