Saturday 18 February 2012

Allende, Isabel "Island Beneath the Sea"

Allende, Isabel "Island Beneath the Sea" (Spanish: La isla bajo el mar) - 2010

Another beautiful Allende novel.  I love everything by her, her trilogy "The House of the Spirits", "Daughter of Fortune" and "Portrait in Sepia" is fantastic. If you liked those novels, you'll love this one, as well.

The setting reminded me of "Wide Sargasso Sea", even part of the story (at least at the beginning) but not too much to make it weird. A great description of life on a plantation, first in the Caribbean, later in Louisiana, the life of the slaves and the free, lots of history, an incredibly rich account of the lives people had to lead. Like any book on slavery, this made me so mad at times, too. I don't like the words "mulatto", "quadroon", etc. Sounds very Nazi-esque, like "half-Jew". It doesn't really matter where on the scale of being a "negro" or a "Jew" those poor people are, they are doomed anyway.

I loved Zarité aka Tété, the main character, but there were a lot of other loveable characters in the book, too. And some not so loveable ones. Isabel Allende always manages to describe them so lively.

I usually have a bit of a problem with the magic realism part of these kind of stories, although I really enjoy the magic realism novels. However, this time I really had no second thoughts, I could accept the voodooisms and Tété's belief in Erzulie, the mother Loa, and her z'étoile very well. It just worked all around, a complete story.

From the back cover:

"From the sugar plantations of Saint-Domingue to the lavish parlors of New Orleans at the turn of the 19th century, Isabel Allende's latest novel tells the story of a mulatta woman, a slave and concubine, determined to take control of her own destiny in a society where that would seem impossible.

Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue – now known as Haiti –Tété is the product of violent union between an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage.

When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it's with powdered wigs in his trunks and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father's plantation, Saint Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy.

Against the merciless backdrop of sugar cane fields, the lives of Tété and Valmorain grow ever more intertwined. When bloody revolution arrives at the gates of Saint Lazare, they flee the island for the decadence and opportunity of New Orleans. There, Tété finally forges a new life – but her connection to Valmorain is deeper than anyone knows and not so easily severed.

Spanning four decades, ‘
Island Beneath the Sea’ is the moving story of one woman's determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been so battered, and to forge her own identity in the cruellest of circumstances."

Find more reviews of Isabel Allende's books here.

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