The Clan of the Cave Bear Author:Jean M. Auel A 5-year old Cro-Magnon girl is suddenly orphaned and left homeless by an earthquake that destroys her family's camp. She wanders aimlessly, naked and unable to feed herself, for several days. Having been attacked and nearly killed by a cave lion and suffering from starvation, exhaustion, and infection of her wounds, she collapses, on the verge ... more »of death.
The narrative switches to a group of Neanderthal people, the "Clan", whose cave was destroyed in the earthquake and are searching for a new home. The medicine woman of the group, Iza, discovers the girl and asks permission from Brun, the head of the Clan, to help her, even though she is clearly a daughter of "the Others". The child is adopted by Iza and her brother Creb, the "Mog-ur" or shaman, an arthritic elder who as a child was mauled by a cave bear and has only one arm and one eye. They call her Ayla, because they can't pronounce her name. Immediately after Iza begins to help her, the clan discovers a huge, beautiful cave; many of the people begin to regard Ayla as lucky, especially since good fortune continues to come their way as she lives among them.
The Neanderthal possess only limited vocal apparatus and rarely speak, but have a highly-developed sign language. They do not laugh or even smile, and they do not cry; when Ayla weeps, Iza thinks she has an eye disease.
Ayla's different thought processes lead her to break important Clan customs, particularly the taboo against females handling weapons. She is self-willed and spirited, but tries hard to fit in with the Neanderthals, although she has to learn everything first-hand; she does not possess the ancestral memories of the Clan which allow them to do certain tasks after being shown only once.
Her main antagonist is Broud, son of the leader, an egomaniac who feels that she takes credit and attention away from him. As the two mature, the hatred between them festers. When they are young adults, Broud rapes Ayla, but she becomes pregnant, and rejoices in the birth of a son.
The book ends with Creb's death, Broud's succession to the leadership, and his banishment of Ayla, who sets off to find other people of her own kind. She is not allowed to take her son with her. The separation haunts her with guilt and grief for the rest of the series.
The sequel "The Valley of Horses" continues Ayla's story, which is further developed in other books of the Earth's Children series, which include "The Mammoth Hunters"; "The Plains of Passage"; and "The Shelters of Stone." Auel is still working on the final book planned in the series, and according to web posts by her son is in negotiations to do a seventh work as a series finale.« less