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The Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel


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Fans of Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series have waited a dozen years for the fifth and latest installment, The Shelters of Stone, which arrived in bookstores recently, weighing in at 2 ½ pounds and almost 750 pages. The soap opera of prehistoric life takes super-woman Ayla, her lover, Jondalar, their horses and pet wolf, home to the limestone caves of Jondalar’s family, where they meet the parents, freak out the community with their technological advances, and get married. Along the way, Auel presents them in countless, boring, interminable meetings of friends and family of the Zelandonii. Auel continues in this book to do a good job in using the archeological record and the opinions of modern anthropologists, to create what some consider a reasonable interpretation of how prehistoric people may have lived. Her descriptions of the landscape, wildlife, cooking methods, hunting, community relations and spiritual life can be compelling at times, and often interesting. The wedding ritual was extremely well-presented. Repetition became frustrating around page 600 or so, and if I read another word about storing food in the permafrost, I would have regurgitated. I laughed out loud when I read Auel’s line about people heading home before a snowstorm arrived: “Never go forth when mammoths go north.” A helpful list of characters appears at the back of the book, and maps on the endpaper can provide helpful context. Here’s an excerpt from one of the many “gathers” or meetings in the book:

“ When the four women first went in the zelandonia lodge, with only the light from a fire in the central hearth and a few lamps, it felt dark inside. But when her eyes adjusted, Marthona looked around and then led the others toward two women who were sitting on a mat on the floor near the wall on the right side of the open central area. The women smiled when they saw them coming and moved over to make room.
 ‘I think it’s about to start,’ Marthona said as they were sitting down on the mat. ‘We can do formal introductions later,’ She spoke to the ones who came with her. ‘This is Proleva’s mother, Velima, and her sister, Levela. They are from Summer Camp, the West Holding of the Twenty-ninth Cave.’ Then to them, ‘This is Damamar’s mate Jerika, and her daughter, Joplaya. The Lanzadonii just arrived this morning. And this is Ayla of the Ninth Cave, formerly Ayla of the Mamutoi, the woman Jondalar plans to mate.’
The women smiled at each other, but before they could exchange many words, they noticed a hush settling over the assembly. The One Who Was First Among Those Who Served The Great Earth Mother and several other Zeladonia were standing in front of the group. Conversations stopped as the women became aware of them. When it was totally silent, the donier began.
 ‘I am going to be speaking of very serious matters, and I want you to listen carefully.’”

That meeting continued for another fourteen pages. I listened carefully, but it was a very long meeting.

Auel presented an amazing story in Clan of the Cave Bear. While I’m still a fan of Ayla, and her courage and competence, each book in the series has been a little worse to read than the one before. If you’re a fan of this series, the book you’ve been waiting for has arrived. If you’ve not read Auel before, you could start with The Shelters of Stone. After that, they get better. Also, there are enough flashbacks or explanations of what happened in earlier books, that you can save hundreds of pages of reading by skipping to this latest offering.

Steve Hopkins, June 5, 2002


ã 2002 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the July 2002 issue of Executive Times


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