Island Beneath the Sea: A Novel by Isabel Allende. Published in 2010.
Synopsis: This epic novel covers 40 years in the lives of Toulouse Valmorain, French plantation owner, and his concubine slave Zarité. Beginning in 1770 on the island of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), this work of historic fiction intertwines the Saint-Domingue slave revolt — led by Toussaint Louverture — with multiple love stories. The protagonist flees Saint-Domingue with her master and children to Cuba, ultimately ending in Louisiana in 1810.
About the Author: A Chilean author born in Peru, Isabel Allende is the author of nine novels – many of which were New York Times bestsellers – a collection of short stories, four memoirs, and three children’s novels. Writing in her native Spanish, her work has been translated into 27 languagues. She currently resides in California, USA.
My Initial Reactions:
Where do I start? This nearly 500-page novel is not a quick read, but I have to say that, overall, I enjoyed it. The characters are complex, the story appears to have been well-researched, and Allende seems to have an answer to all of her readers’ questions.
I found it interesting that the story is told from multiple points of view, and that she includes perspectives from both grand blancs and mulattoes. This is not the first work of historic fiction involving Toussaint Louverture’s revolution in Haiti I have read — I read Victor Hugo’s Bug-Jargal in college — but this was an interesting spin-off of the events. I had never before considered the Haitian revolultion in light of the almost-simultaneous French revolution, nor the settling of French refugees from Saint-Domingue in New Orleans just prior to the Louisiana purchase. Though this is a work of fiction, Allende did a great job of blending history with the lives of her fictitious characters and making me feel that these were in fact real people.
My favorite character in the book was Violetter Boisier. Why is it that I always love the sex workers in literature? I loved how, despite the time setting, Allende had many strong female characters who were able to hold their own – Violette, Adèle, Tante Rose. I also found it interesting that the wealthy were the antagonists — living their luxurious, but ultra-boring lives while all the time getting fatter and fatter.
The only downside of the book was that I was a bit disturbed by the incestuous ending, even though I was quite sure from around page 200 that Jean-Martin would fall for Rosette and that would be how their blood relationship would be revealed.
So what did you think of the book? Did you enjoy it or did you think it was too drawn out? Are there any particular characters you particularly loved or hated? Please post in the comments below.
Next up: Girl in Translation: A Novel by Jean Kwok. Discussion begins October 21st.