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Star Island Paperback – June 21, 2011
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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.
This book was so beautifully written. Kudos to Isabel. Her books are well worth the effort that she puts into them.
Cherry Pye epitomizes everything that is disturbing about modern celebrity. With a lack of talent, but backed by an ambitious team, Cherry has risen to teenage stardom despite an obliviousness to her surroundings. Keeping Cherry's image somewhat intact amidst rampant promiscuity and drug use is a full time job for an entire entourage of handlers. With self-promoting parents, a pair of publicists surgically enhanced to appear identical, a desperate record label executive, a wannabe boyfriend, a stand-in to handle social events when Cherry is incapacitated, and a new body guard with a weed whacker in place of an arm--Hiaasen has compiled enough hilariously repellant characters to fill several novels! Add a corpulent paparazzo who's practically stalking Cherry to her death and an ex-politician who has turned into a rogue environmental terrorist and "Star Island" is overflowing with local color!
I think the primary criticism that some readers might have with "Star Island" is its lack of a real heart--none of the characters proves to be an identifiable protagonist. Cherry's double Ann is positioned as the piece's true hero (many characters instantly love and/or admire her), but her sarcasm isn't particularly heart-warming and she's riding the same opportunistic train that every one else is. Don't get me wrong, I liked Ann fine--I just don't think she served exactly the role Hiaasen set her up for. To be fair, "Star Island" is no "up-with-people" feel good hit, though. It is the grotesque underbelly of stardom and the parasites that feed off of it. And that works for me--I like that sort of thing! I plowed through "Star Island"--it is good and dirty fun!