166 of 177 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2010
I am originally from Haiti, and is currently reading this book on my Kindle. I absolutely love it. It's obvious the author did hours of research on the history of Haiti, and it's then relationship with France. The accuracy of the cruelty of slavery, including the treatment of Mulattos towards the blacks. The intertwining of Christianity, versus the need of the Africans to hold onto the practice of Voodoo. After all, what appeared as the "white's" religion, was used to justify their oppresion. It is a very informative read. I highly recommend it.
93 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2010
Isabel Allende is a great writer. A serious writer. A very profound and emotional writer. She hails from Chile, where her father, renowned and devoted activist Salvador Allende, tried to change the world but ended up losing his life instead. She is fascinated with the ideas of war and virtue, about dedication to one's country and the need to change it, to love in all its splendor and the raucous power of emotion gone wrong. Although she doesn't use much in the way of magic in her work, her books reflect a certain belief in the universe as a spirit with power that manipulates and frustrates the human puppets it places on earth.
In ISLAND BENEATH THE SEA, Allende looks at two people: a slave who grows into her own with a talent in voodoo, and Toulouse Valmorain, a young man who is trying to fit into society's predetermined characteristics of a successful young man. Both of their travails are difficult, and they find themselves drawn to and dependent upon each other for their survival in some very rough waters. The island of the title is Saint-Domingue, and Zarité --- known as Tété --- is "the daughter of an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage." Tété finds solace from the daily horrors and fears of her childhood in the traditional rhythms of African drums as well as the voodoo loas she comes to be educated in by her fellow slaves.
Twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain comes to Saint-Dominigue in 1770. It's as if he's a contemporary financier who is coming to Manhattan to become a billionaire. With a bevy of powdered wigs in his baggage, he comes to run his father's plantation, Saint Lazare. The work is hard, more difficult than he could have been prepared to expect. For eight years, he works his tail off, also trying to find the perfect mate for the perfect marriage, which proves much harder than he could have imagined. Of course, there are complications where Tété is involved --- his dependence on her frightens him and makes some of his choices harrowing. Tété is also determined to find her own true love, and so ISLAND BENEATH THE SEA ponders their futures over four very different decades.
It becomes clear that Allende has an axe to grind in terms of "love" --- finding it, holding on to it, and treating it right are all so hard on their own. But add slavery into the mix, and brutality, and the sense that you are a product that belongs to another human being, and you end up with a wicked soup that proves, in the end, to show that love, really and truly, can save the day. Tété creating and honing her own identity is integral to the central values of love and what it has to offer.
And so ISLAND BENEATH THE SEA is a tale of poetics and cruelty. and how the two together can often coalesce into something like a diamond --- sharp but shining, an example of the hard fight won. Allende just keeps getting better, and this epic will surely find its way into many a summer tote bag.
64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2010
I have been a fan of Ms. Allende's books for some time and this one does not disappoint. The first reviewer made a point that the book casts the stereotype that all Whites are evil. I do not believe that is the writer's intent. There were atrocities that were commited by the Blacks as well. What I see is the book showing the destructive cycle to so much and so many that slavery causes. Haiti has never recovered from what took place in that country 200 years ago and the earthquake has set it back many, many more years. I applaud the effort in the research that Ms. Allende took the time to make in order to incorporate the history and fictional characters in this book. It made me want to do my own "homework" to find out about the Haitian Revolt and the people who were responsible for initiating the abolishmnent of slavery. Tete and her family's fortunes and tragedies are very real ones. All the horrors she documents are very much connected to forceably keeping people in bondage.
This book was so beautifully written. Kudos to Isabel. Her books are well worth the effort that she puts into them.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
The mulatto slave Zarité, known as Tété, and her owner, the French planter Toulouse Valmorain form the center of Allende's novel about slavery and the slave revolt that freed Haiti.
Valmorain came to the island at the age of 20, a rich noble anxious for a quick return to Paris. But the death of his father and the disarray of his sugar plantation make escape impossible, so Valmorain throws himself into making the property a success. His right hand man in this is the brutal overseer Prosper Cambray, feared by all.
Cambray lusts after Tété, Valmorain's wife's maid and soon, as the wife descends more deeply into madness, Valmorain's mistress and primary caretaker of his son. Tété's own son with Valmorain has been taken from her, she knows not where, and her lover, a young, proud African, runs off to join the rebels.
The first half centers on the brief, degraded lives of slaves on the island and the build-up to the slave revolt. Allende fills in a lot of political and emotional detail: the French Revolution so far away, the failed slave revolts of the past, the fears of the vastly outnumbered whites.
The second half takes Tété and Valmorain to Cuba, then New Orleans, as they flee Toussaint L'Ouverture's rebellion. Allende's historical focus is masterful, from the economic and intellectual views on slavery and slaves by landowners, to the remnants of African culture - like voodoo - that the slaves clung to.
The brutality is mindboggling, of course, and Allende goes into it in great detail. It's detail, actually, which makes this less than her best. So determined is she to get across the despicable history of slavery, she loses the individuals among the archetypes. She depicts Valmorain as a fairly liberal planter, although he rapes Tété at age 11 and considers her incapable of deep emotion. He is simply a man of his times and culture.
Tété is more complex, but still rather flat. The real life of the novel is slavery itself - the enormity of it as a force for evil. Allende successfully shows how slavery corrupted the thinking of whites and debased their values, how it changed the course of history in so many ways, seeped into the very fabric of the culture and how its legacy follows us still.
Allende's research is formidable and her passion infectious. Anyone interested in the birth of Haiti or the coming-of-age of New Orleans should enjoy Allende's thorough exploration.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Stunning, breathtaking, just an absolutely fantastic read. I started Island Beneath the Sea last night and literally could not put it down. I've just turned the last page and am wondering why have I never read Isabel Allende before!?
The novel opens with a prologue in which Zarité expresses her love of dancing.
"..he invited me to lose myself in the music, the way you do in a dream. Dance, dance, Zarité, the slave who dances is free...while he is dancing, he told me. I have always danced."
Zarité or Teté as she comes to be known, was sold as a slave when she was only a few months old. In 1770 she lives on the island of Saint-Domingue. She is sold again to plantation owner Toulouse Valmorain to look after his wife. Life in the French colony is becoming more and more unsettled. By 1793 the island is extremely dangerous - the blacks have rebelled and are massacring the whites. Valmorain, his family and Teté escape to Cuba and then to Louisiana.
The brief synopsis I've provided doesn't even begin to touch the rich, sweeping saga Allende has written. The story that Allende has woven is simply mesmerizing. But is is the character of Teté that captured me completely -her strength, fortitude, endurance and spirit. Teté is a resilient woman, facing seemingly unbearable situations with quiet dignity. Her life and that of Valmorain are inextricably intertwined as she bears two of his children - the products of repeated sexual violence, beginning when she was eleven. Despite the violence visited upon her, she has an unflagging love for her children and hope for her own future.
But it was the descriptions of the treatment of the slaves that brought tears to my eyes many times. The cavalier and cruel actions by the whites was appalling. Indeed, there were over 60 classifications of mulattoes, based on the amount of white blood.
The supporting characters were no less captivating. Tante Rose, the local healer and voodoo leader, the freedom fighters, including Gambo, Teté's lover and Violette,the mulatto courtesan desired by many. Parmentier, the local white doctor who has secrets of his own. Each one of their stories are rich and vibrant as well.
The Island Beneath the Sea is historical fiction at its' absolute best. The detail was fascinating. I had no idea of the roots of the island we now know as Haiti, the slavery that started long before it reached America and the long war between Spain and France over this small piece of land. Descriptions of the social lives and customs of this time period were incredibly illustrated.
The title? Slaves chose to kill their children and send the to 'the island beneath the sea' rather than have them live as slaves.
Allende's ability to weave factual events with fiction is truly spectacular. Highly, highly recommended.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Set in the French colony that will later become Haiti and using the revolt of 1804 plus several historical figures in her narrative the multi talented Isabel Allende relates the story of Zarite, called Tete. Her life is a mirror in which we see reflected the horrors of slavery, and the brutality of the lives endured by those who worked on the sugar cane plantations.
Tete is the mulatto daughter of a mother she never knew and a white sailor. When Toulouse Valmorain arrives in 1770 he intends that his visit will be brief. However, he inherits his father's vast holdings - plantations and hundreds of slaves. He buys Tete as his wife's slave little knowing how their lives will intertwine. Days are perilous during the slave revolt and although Tete hates her master she has borne him two children, so she escapes with him to New Orleans to protect her offspring.
It is there in an entirely different world that Tete attempts to create a life for herself.
As is her wont Allende has created complex, fascinating characters, unforgettable people whose lives have been caught up in situations not of their own doing. Tete' is a remarkable figure, struggling against almost insurmountable mores and odds.
- Gail Cooke
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2011
I love Isabel Allende. I have all of her books, save the last two, which I got from the library.
I disagree with other reviewers that she paints a stereotypical "black good, white bad" picture: what about the white Doctor? What about the Irish family in New Orleans? What about the rebel leaders in Saint Domingue, who were happy to sell out their compatriots (and cursed by Gambo?)
I loved the way she brought characters from other books in peripherally: the Lafitte brothers from Zorro make an appearance!
Allende does mince her words a bit; she doesn't call rape rape (a subject she's dealt with in other books)from the get go. Tete bears Valmorain's son, who is promptly taken away from her. She bears a second child, which she is allowed to keep. The children appear (and disappear)in the narrative; it isn't until they get to America that Tete calls Valmorain's present crimes and and past brutality by name. Does a slave only recognise rape when she compares it to free mutual love (with Gambo)?
(SPOILER HERE) The bridge too far for me is incest. Valmorain's legitimate son and Tete's daughter Rosette know they're half-siblings, but still want to marry? The good doctor is complicit, the sainted priest back-hands them a way to get married. Most unbelievably, Tete goes along with it? No, I can't see a tragic love story in that: it's perverse! The final injustice done to Rosette infuriates me, but I can't cry for the poor child she leaves behind. Yes, I understand, this kind of disgusting thing went on all the time, thanks to the vile slave-owners who would rape the slave mothers and then go to rape their own slave daughters - the offspring of such hideous unions would not always be severely damaged mutants, but it's clear that these people were not willing participants! These people did not grow up as brother and sister, knowing they were siblings, and then insist on marrying! Allende loses me at this point, and keeps me from loving this book like I love her other ones.
37 of 47 people found the following review helpful
I have not finished reading this novel, but I want to register a protest. Neither Amazon's entry describing this novel nor any of the reviewers makes any reference to the translator. It is a fact that the same brilliant and distinguished woman has translated most of Allende's novels into English; she has also translated numerous other works of Spanish and Central and South American literature, including poetry by Pablo Neruda and Cesar Vallejo, fiction by Carlos Fuentes and Pedro Paramo, as well as the works of Sor Juana de la Cruz. She is a major literary artist and, along with Edith Grossman, one of the very best translators of Spanish language literary works. Her name -- too little known, is Margaret Sayers Peden, and I believe that her name should appear in the entries of all her translations, since she works very hard and contributes mightily to our awareness of these works and to the reputations of the authors she translates. I know that Isabel Allende has often acknowledged her debt to Margaret Sayers Peden. Others should recognize her brilliance, as well.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2010
Allende presents an extremely nuanced account of the complexities of the slave system in Saint Domingue and New Orleans (and tangentially, Cuba) in the 1700s. There's no perspective that's left unexplored - or unaffected by another perspective. Everyone sits in the boiling soup that is slavery, purposely or inadvertently exchanging essences, and irreversibly changed.
The proud African who will never accept slavery must protect the white master from murderous revolt because the master shares a child with the mulatta slave the African is in love with, for example. Likewise the outspoken abolitionist white doctor lives in shame, leading a double life in which he cannot openly acknowledge his black wife and the children they share. The characters may be "slaves", "masters", "cocottes", "blacks", "whites", "quadroons", etc, but they are flesh and bone first, imbued with their own respective set of chinks and admirable qualities.
Freedom is treated as a nebulous concept, as master is bound to his slave when she is the only one who can connect with his children; and a freed slave has few prospects of attaining paid work in a climate of open and violent racism. What it means to be free becomes even more tenuous when the women of the time are discussed. Marriage is its own slavery, in a way, as wives resort to trickery, espionage, and manipulation to get what they want from their husbands. Infidelity is expected and accepted as long as it is cloaked in hypocrisy -- a system that ironically works to the advantage of the women of color who are eluded the marriage option. The best a black woman or mulatta can hope for is "placement" with a rich white man who will keep her as his #1 side-piece.
And what of the slaves who led the revolts? As they negotiate with their former captors, the concessions they are willing to make call "freedom" into question all the more as issues of power and international political games spike the freedom punch.
Love is infinitely more complicated in the bubbling cauldron of slavery, and the attendant sex and mind games. Black mothers must learn to love in a way that allows them to live for another day when their children are torn from their breasts -- or can be at any moment. Fathers cannot acknowledge the first born sons of their loins because the mother is a slave; yet this mother has been more of a wife to him than the wife acknowledged by society. And how many incestuous trysts -- witting and unwitting -- took place between whites and the blood-related slaves they raped or loved?
Religion and faith are in this soup too. The tenets and practices of voodoo, Catholicism and Protestantism are mingled by all in the society, as is skepticism, agnosticism, and atheism. Rationalizations for the cruelest injustices can only salve the conscience for so long while God, rightousness, and justice become topics of mortal interest as human beings are stripped of their humanity in the vortex of power, greed, and violence. For some, the conclusion is there is no God, for most the fear and hope is that there is a Holy Spirit in charge of all the madness -- that justice will prevail. And so amulets and ceremonies and church services and prayers abound.
I could go on, but I'll conclude by saying that even with her even-handed, thoroughly researched, immensely educational account of slavery, Allende manages to keep the prose seductive and steamy, even. Her words, her phrasing -- they wink their eyes and bat their lashes at the reader; and one can imagine Allende writing this book with a pen in one hand, a silk fan in the other, hair piled high to accentuate a heaving decolletage exaggerated by the contriction of a whalebone corset.
Makes me want to do my own independent research on Toussaint Louverture and slavery in the Caribbean and makes me want to write my own epic historical African novel.
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, author of Powder Necklace: A Novel (Wsp Readers Club)
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2010
In the past I have greatly enjoyed the audiobooks of Isabel Allende, narrated by Blair Brown. I have listened to Daughter of Fortune, Portrait in Sepia, Zorro, and Ines Of My Soul. It seemed to be the perfect blending of narrator and author.
I'm not sure why Blair Brown was dropped for Allende's latest novel, Island Beneath The Sea, but her talent is sorely missed here. Allende is pretty much top notch, though the story is a bit more soap opera than usual, meaning that the characters seem to go through a lot of plot without necessarily being motivated in that direction. Perhaps that's to show the victimization by circumstance of all of the characters by the institution of slavery? Perhaps.
Nevertheless it's quite entertaining, fast moving, well researched, and involving, though maybe not on the same level as Ines Of My Soul.
The real problem for me was the narration. The reader seemed to be reading the material for the first time. You could tell that the author was really trying to enunciate, but that just got in the way of the storytelling. And when she wasn't enunciating carefully, she ended up mumbling a bit, or dropping parts of words. My ears struggled quite a bit.
Ms. Merkerson sounds like she is reading a book, whereas Blair Brown sounds like she is telling a story. It makes all the difference. I give this four stars for the novel, and two and half for the narration.