Welcome to the second of my posts on authors who have inspired me to write to celebrate Get Caught Reading Month.
In fact the books of Jean M. Auel did not just inspire me to write beyond the short stories that were piling up in my desk drawer, but to explore my own heritage further.
Although the books were published in the 1980s it was not until the late 90s that I bought and read The Clan of the Cave Bear and was immediately hooked. As with Wilbur Smith, I began to buy the hard back copies so I could read the latest Ayla story as soon as possible and they hold pride of place next to his books in my library.
I found the whole subject matter fascinating and was delighted when Valley of the Horses was released at the end of 2001. I was now completely hooked, not only about Ayla and her life as it evolved in the story but the time it was set in, around 35,000 years ago. This led me to another book written by Dr. Bryan Sykes called the Seven Daughters of Eve.
The Oxford Ancestor DNA Project was just becoming available and David and I both submitted our DNA for testing. At that time the test traced the mitochondrial DNA against the seven sets of bones found during excavations from around 45,000 years ago.
When submitted, an individual’s DNA is tested against seven sets of bones. Each of the identified set of bones found in various regions in Europe was given a name. My results showed that my DNA came from Helena whose bones dated back around 20,000 years ago. My husband’s to a slightly later woman, Velda, 17,000 years ago.
Helena’s, and therefore my own DNA, is according to Dr. Sykes and his team, the largest and most successful of the seven native clans with 41% of Europeans belonging to one of its many branches. She was born somewhere in the valleys of the Dordogne in South Central France, but the clan is widespread throughout all parts of Europe, but reaches its highest frequency among the Basque people of Northern Spain and Southern France. (Perhaps explains my love of my former Spanish home in the mountains above Madrid combined with sunshine, olive oil, seafood etc.)
The ice-age was at its severest and stretched down as far as Bordeaux, and in Britain down as far as the midlands (Britain was still joined to continental Europe by dry land). Helena’s diet would have consisted of meat, seafood from the shoreline such as oysters and possibly seaweeds, various plants and fruits, some tubers and mushrooms, seeds and grains. Recent research indicates that we may well have begun eating raw grains very early on when we left the forests for the grasslands, and that even 30,000 years ago we may have been processing existing grains for cooking. Rather negates the recent trend to take all grains out of our diet!
According to Helena’s bones, she was about 42 when she died and would have lived to see her grandchildren. That was a good age for the time. Life was very hard – apart from the cold and harsh living conditions, food scarcity, childhood was perilous and it was an achievement to reach 15. If you did, then provided you survived giving birth, avoided accidents and found enough to eat and store for winter months, you could look forward to perhaps another 20 years to your mid-30’s. In a time where survival of the fittest was the rule – Helena survived into her 40’s and produced daughters who were strong and fertile who resulted in not just myself, but my two sisters, and three granddaughters to carry on her legacy.
Which brings me back to the Earth Children Series. The books now held even more fascination for me as I felt a connection to not just Ayla but to all those she met, the descriptions of life and hardships they endured. I could easily imagine a few thousand years on my own ancestor living a very similar life and facing those same challenges.
I recommend the whole series which is now available in ebook as well as paperback in audio. The amount of research involved in the books is phenomenal and there were quite a few years between each book. Today you can download all six individually or as a complete set and read them back to back.
About Clan of the Cave Bear
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read
Through Jean M. Auel’s magnificent storytelling we are taken back to the dawn of modern humans, and with a girl named Ayla we are swept up in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world they shared with the ones who called themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear.
A natural disaster leaves the young girl wandering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman of the Clan, people very different from her own kind. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks peculiar and ugly—she is one of the Others, those who have moved into their ancient homeland; but Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old Mog-ur, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. But the brutal and proud youth who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority. He develops a deep and abiding hatred for the strange girl of the Others who lives in their midst, and is determined to get his revenge.
One of the recent reviews for the book.
Set in during the last Ice Age, Ayla, a primitive human girl of five, loses her family in an earthquake. Starving, dehydrated, and mauled by a cave lion, she is found wandering by Iza, a medicine woman of the Clan. Not Cro Magnum like Alya, but Neanderthal at the waning end of their races existence, the Clan takes in the girl of the Others.
Ayla has to adapt to the similar but different Clan. Their customs, their behavior, and their social relationships are different from humans, but their emotions are so familiar. Ayla has to learn, bending her personality to their rigid practices. But if she can’t adapt, the Clan will punish her.
And Broud, the clan leader’s son, is eager to see that she fails. Consumed by jealousy, the young Neanderthal will do anything to hurt or degrade Ayla.
Clan of the Cave Bear is a brilliant book. Set in the ice age, Auel’s meticulous research into survival tactics, primitive technology, and megalithic wildlife now extinct brings to life the distant past of the earliest humans. Through Ayla, we can get a glimpse of how our ancestors lived and how their cultures developed. The fact she also has a very human story in the character of Ayla’s early childhood and coming of age as an adult only makes the story even more gripping.
With great characters, a moving plot, and a fascinating setting, there’s a reason that Auel’s Earth Children series is so popular! If you’re a fan of historical fiction then you need to read this amazing series!
Read some of the over 1300 reviews and buy the books in ebook, paperback and audio: https://www.amazon.com/Clan-Cave-Bear-Earths-Children/dp/0553250426
The other books in the Earth Children Series
Read all the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.com/Jean-M.-Auel/e/B000APVANG
And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jean-M.-Auel/e/B000APVANG
About Jean M. Auel
“It started as a short story…”
Jean Marie Auel was born February 18, 1936, the second of five children of parents Neil and Martha Untinen. She is an American author best known for her Earth’s Children® books, a series of novels set in prehistoric Europe that explores interactions of Cro-Magnon people with Neanderthals. As of 2010 her novels have sold more than 45 million copies worldwide, with nearly half that total number sold in the United States alone. The series consists of The Clan of the Cave Bear, The Valley of Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, The Plains of Passage, The Shelters of Stone, and The Land of Painted Caves.
She grew up in Chicago. Following her marriage to Ray Auel—a man she has known since they were children together in grade school, and with whom she recently celebrated a 56th wedding anniversary–the Auels relocated to Oregon. She did her undergraduate work at Portland State University, and later earned an M.B.A. from the University of Portland, while working and raising her five children.
In 1977, at the age of forty and on the cusp of changing jobs, Ms. Auel was inspired by the idea of writing a story—a short story—that was as entertaining and informative as the books she enjoyed herself. She envisioned a young woman from mankind’s earliest history, who was the archetypal stranger, living with people who are physically and psychologically different. Ms. Auel began to write, until she realized something important: She had no idea what the world she wanted to write about was like. How did early people live? What did they eat? What were their relationships like? And what kind of a woman could not only live through the challenges of this harsh world and harsher prejudices, but triumph?
Always meticulous and a voracious reader, Ms. Auel began to research. She visited the local library and came home with two armfuls of books. She immersed herself in the available historical and scientific data, learning everything she could about life more than 30,000 years ago. Her extensive, precise research became a hallmark of her work, earning her the respect of archeologists, anthropologists, and paleontologists worldwide for her subtle interpretation of facts and artifacts. “Scientists have to be objective,” she has stated, “but as an author I have to be subjective. But it is an informed subjectivity, and true to the facts we have.”
She named her heroine Ayla (pronounced with a long “A”). Ms. Auel’s short story grew into an outline for a novel … and the outline grew into a plan for six epic novels. “I told my husband I had a plan for six books,” she laughs, “and he replied I hadn’t even written one!”
But she soon finished the first of the novels, entitled The Clan of the Cave Bear, composed in a burst of creative energy in just over one year. A chance encounter with a New York-based literary agent at a local writers’ workshop further sparked her success; the much-respected Jean Naggar expressed real interest in the manuscript. Impressed with the power of her storytelling, Naggar negotiated a deal for the novel … and the rest is publishing history. The Clan of the Cave Bear was published in hardcover in 1980, and The Valley of Horses followed in 1982. Her third novel The Mammoth Hunters (1985) broke records, being the first hardcover novel with a first printing of more than one million copies. In 1990, The Plains of Passage was published, and in 2002, her fifth novel, The Shelters of Stone, debuted at #1 on bestseller lists in 16 countries. The Land of Painted Caves will be published all over the world in late March, 2011.
Ms. Auel still lives in Portland, Oregon. She holds four honorary degrees from universities, and was awarded the French government’s Ministry of Culture “Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters” medal.
Thanks for dropping in today and I hope that if you have not as yet read one of these books that you will now do so. Thanks Sally