Friday, June 25, 2010

Book 59: Island Beneath the Sea

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

I haven't written a review in a while and I'm not even sure where to start at this point. While Isabel Allende's novels aren't always masterpieces, I count her as one of my favorite authors, and was incredibly excited to discover she'd released a new novel.

The novel takes place in Haiti, and ranges over forty years. As usual, Allende has a wide variety of characters, and she has clearly done historical research on the topic. Unfortunately, I wasn't really that impressed with her main character, Tete, especially in comparison to some of her other novels' protagonists. That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the novel but I just didn't feel nearly as interested in Tete as for example Eliza of Daughter of Fortune, or Ines from Ines of my Soul. Fortunately, the rest of the cast and the actual story were enough to make it an interesting ride.

Tete is a young slave girl on Sainte Domingue, and is purchased to be Toulouse Valmoiran's new bride's maid. As a result, while she witnesses the cruelty of the sugar plantations, she has a slightly easier time of it as a house slave. Not that it completely spares her by any means - as a house slave, she also attracts the master's sexual attentions simply due to her proximity, and has her firstborn taken away to prevent her mistress from becoming agitated.

After the slave rebellion, Tete chooses to flee to New Orleans with her Valmoiran due to her mother-like attachment to his son, and the difficulty she believes her daughter would have among the former slave community. Many of the other characters from the novel end up in New Orleans as well, including Violette Boisier, who was actually my favorite character in the novel. She started out as a courtesan, married a French soldier for love, and then becomes a rather shrewd and insightful business woman in New Orleans. In ways, she is very reminiscent of some of Allende's other characters and shows a mix of traits of quite a few of them. I also enjoyed the French doctor.

As I said, however, Tete is the main character, even though the others left more of an impression on me. I also thought it was surprising how easily Tete accepted some of her children's desires at the end of the novel . . . As I said, overall I enjoyed the novel but other than the fact that it was set in Haiti and I therefore learned a little bit more about the slave rebellion, I'm not sure there is really anything in this novel that hasn't been done before - many of the characters seem familiar from both Allende's previous novels and other novels about slavery. Still, at least it held my interest which is more than I can say for a few novels I've started reading lately.

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