Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Island Beneath the Sea - Isabel Allende

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
Allende's newest historical fiction novel about Haiti was released in April, just a few months after the devastating hurricane hit Haiti. At a time when more people where interested in learning about Haiti, here comes Island Beneath the Sea. Sometimes, I marvel at the ability of author's to write fiction current to today's events.

Island Beneath the Sea is broken into two parts. Part one is Saint -Domingue (1770-1793) Novel begins with Toulouse Valmorain, a young French man who must travel to Saint- Dominque to check up on his ill father. Before that Toulouse was living the good life in France. French families including the Valmorain's don't talk about slavery, what they owe their fortune to. When Toulouse's father dies he takes over the sugar plantation.

The novel starts getting really good when Zarite is introduced, essentially this is her story. When we first meet Zarite, she's a skinny little girl. Zarite is purchased and groomed to Eugenia, Toulouse's lady maid (or less fancy personal slave)

The prologue is the voice of Zarite, looking back on her life. Beginning in the year 1770 and ending in 1810. Allende covers much ground. One of the books strengths is the history of Saint - Dominque, and the struggle of African slaves against French enslavement. The story moves at a great pace, the author doesn't introduce too many characters. Which sometimes happens with historical novel this size (457pgs) Allende does a wonderful job developing her characters.

Island Beneath the Sea is very well written, I couldn't stop reading. Allende's language is beautiful. In later years during the uprising in Saint Doninque Zarite protected, the kids, Rosette, her child with Toulouse and Maurice, Tououse's son with his first wife. Zarite was forced to protect Toulouse as well though he was never grateful. There were a few times when Zarite reminded me of Lizzie from Wench. Both women refused to leave their children behind and hope that being good and waiting will get their masters to give them their freedom papers. I felt Allende used death as a way great rid of not so good characters or to end story lines. To be fair to the author, I only start noticing the small things when the big ones are done very well. Allende did what she set out to do, told a good story and educated people about Haiti's history along the way.

I really liked this one but didn't love it. Even though I had a few issues with Islande Beneath the Sea, I still believe it's a very worthwhile read. Since there's much to be considedered, it would make a great book club selection.


Tere Kirkland said...

I think I would have liked this book more (I just didn't LOVE it) if I hadn't read her earlier novels, The House of the Spirits, and Daughter of Fortune especially, because those I loved.

I'm not sure what it was I didn't like as well, the voice was good, the story was interesting and even heartbreaking at times, but it didn't have that same sense of place that I associate with her earlier novels, if that makes sense.

Great review!

Deborah Grayson Studios said...

I literally picked up this book this morning to start reading it and then I read your review. After reading Wench and The Book of Night Women (both excellent novels) I said I would not read anything else in this genre for a while. Allende's book was at the library so I picked it up. This is my first novel by her. So far so good.

Doret said...

Tere - That makes a lot of sense
Urban - I thought Wench was great and I've heard very good things about Book of the Night Women.

Amy said...

I haven't read anything by Allende but have this sitting on my tbr pile. I hope I enjoy it as much or more than you did :)

Unknown said...

Toussaint L’Ouverture is an integral part of Haiti’s history, not to be forgotten. If you want to inform yourself, “The Last Days of Toussaint L’Ouverture” – a short film – chronicled his last moments in fighting against the French oppressors. Clip here http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2468184/