Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Island Beneath the Sea by Isabelle Allende


One of our book club members recommended this book for discussion in our April meeting. To be ready in time I started early just in case. No problem there, it was finished in now time at all. It is a wonderful, steamy, violent, horrifying and interesting book. Allende, an excellent storyteller, tells a family saga from colonial Saint-Domingue, present day Haiti, in the end of the 18th century.
We meet a gallery of different people; white colonialists, military people, slaves, mulattos, young and old. Slave trade is the backbone of the colonialism. Without it they would not survive and prosper. It is the time when the slaves started to fight for an independent state, the foreigners fight for their plantations and life style, the military is doing their job and
it is a difficult one. France is going from a monarchy to a republic, dividing also the French people on the island. The slaves live with their dreams of the past life and dreams for the future. When life is at its hardest they dream of the island beneath the sea. Voodoo is the religion. Superstitions and magic are part of the daily life. It is not understood by the white people and therefore also scary. Fear is forever present on both sides. The whites seem to be as much slaves as the blacks, although their life is more comfortable. 
It is a cruel story and sometimes it is difficult to read about the atrocities that take place and are well described in the book. The story evolves around two persons who become dependent on each other although they live quite different lives. Tolouse Vallmorain comes to visit his father in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. Upon arrival he realises that his father is dying and his temporary visit becomes permanent when he decides to take over the running of his father’s plantation. Zarité, called Tete is the young slave girl who comes to the plantation some years later to care for his wife. We follow their family and friends during the turbulent times from around 1770 until 1820 from Africa/France to Saint-Dominque, to Cuba to New Orleans. Their lives are interwoven and it seems there is not getting away from the future.

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