Sunday, April 11, 2010

Island Beneath The Sea-Isabel Allende

Island Beneath The Sea
Isabel Allende
Harper, Apr 27 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061988240

In 1770, with his father dying, twenty years old Toulouse Valmorain leaves France to take over Saint Lazare, the family plantation in Haiti. Over the next few years, Toulouse works hard and makes his slaves toil harder. He marries, and for his wife Eugenia of Spain, Toulouse buys a mixed racial child slave Zarite of Saint-Domingue, whose white father sold her into bondage. Toulouse directs mulatto courtesan Violette Boisier to mentor the young slave.

Zarite, known as Tete, lives in trepidation as abuse is her norm. She finds some escape in African drum music and voodoo loas. Meanwhile, Eugenia is going mad but gives birth to a son Maurice. Toulouse soon rapes Zarite, leaving her pregnant; once the child he assumes is his is born he gives the bastard to Violette and her military husband to raise the kid though he allows Rosette to be a companion to his Maurice. The French expatriate is unaware that another slave Gambo, who escaped to join the resistance, is Rosette’s sire. Led by Toussaint Louverture, a slave revolt occurs across the island; leaving Valmorain's plantation among others ruined. Gambo and Zarite helps him flee to Louisiana where his brother-in-law has bought him land. He frees Zarite as he promised, but tragedy continues to haunt them and their offspring.

This is an excellent timely historical tale that brings to life slavery in the Caribbean and the United States. Well written though no profound generalities are drawn, the story line enables the reader to better understand the motives of slaveholders in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Thus, the powerful characters, not just those prime players as included above, make Island Beneath the Sea a multi decade saga worth reading.

Harriet Klausner

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