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Island Beneath the Sea

Cover of Island Beneath the Sea

Island Beneath the Sea

A Novel
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Born on the island of Saint-Domingue, 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. When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, he purchases young TÉtÉ for his bride. Yet it is he who will become dependent on the services of his teenaged slave.

Against the merciless backdrop of sugar cane fields, the lives of TÉtÉ and Valmorain grow ever more intertwined. When the bloody revolution of Toussaint Louverture arrives, they flee the brutal conditions of the French colony that will become Haiti for the raucous, free-wheeling enterprise of New Orleans. There, TÉtÉ finally forges a new life, but her connection to Valmorain is deeper than anyone knows and not easily severed. Isabel Allende crafts the riveting story of one woman's determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been so battered, and to forge her own identity in the cruelest of circumstances.

Born on the island of Saint-Domingue, 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. When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, he purchases young TÉtÉ for his bride. Yet it is he who will become dependent on the services of his teenaged slave.

Against the merciless backdrop of sugar cane fields, the lives of TÉtÉ and Valmorain grow ever more intertwined. When the bloody revolution of Toussaint Louverture arrives, they flee the brutal conditions of the French colony that will become Haiti for the raucous, free-wheeling enterprise of New Orleans. There, TÉtÉ finally forges a new life, but her connection to Valmorain is deeper than anyone knows and not easily severed. Isabel Allende crafts the riveting story of one woman's determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been so battered, and to forge her own identity in the cruelest of circumstances.

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Awards-
About the Author-
  • Isabel Allende is the author of twelve works of fiction, including the New York Times bestsellers Maya's Notebook, Island Beneath the Sea, Inés of My Soul, Daughter of Fortune, and a novel that has become a world-renowned classic, The House of the Spirits. Born in Peru and raised in Chile, she lives in California.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine This story of prostitution, colonialism, and a woman's quest to live independently is told with feeling by S. Epatha Merkerson. Her slightly deep voice lends the novel a mythical quality, illustrating the spirit of the times in the late eighteenth century. Merkerson deals adeptly with the French names scattered throughout the text without breaking the rhythm of the story. She also varies her pace, speeding up and slowing down to indicate shifts in viewpoint from female to male characters. The different emphases also ensure that listeners can differentiate the wide-ranging cast throughout the span of story, which includes two main characters as well as several who appear only in brief scenes. M.R. (c) AudioFile 2010, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 5, 2010


    Reviewed by
    Marlon James
    Of the many pitfalls lurking for the historical novel, the most dangerous is history itself. The best writers either warp it for selfish purposes (Gore Vidal), dig for the untold, interior history (Toni Morrison), or both (Jeannette Winterson). Allende, four years after Ines of My Soul
    , returns with another historical novel, one that soaks up so much past life that there is nowhere left to go but where countless have been. Opening in Saint Domingue a few years before the Haitian revolution would tear it apart, the story has at its center Zarité, a mulatto whose extraordinary life takes her from that blood-soaked island to dangerous and freewheeling New Orleans; from rural slave life to urban Creole life and a different kind of cruelty and adventure. Yet even in the new city, Zarité can't quite free herself from the island, and the people alive and dead that have followed her.
    Zarité's passages are striking. More than merely lyrical, they map around rhythms and spirits, making her as much conduit as storyteller. One wishes there was more of her because, unlike Allende, Zarité is under no mission to show us how much she knows. Every instance, a brush with a faith healer, for example, is an opportunity for Allende to showcase what she has learned about voodoo, medicine, European and Caribbean history, Napoleon, the Jamaican slave Boukman, and the legendary Mackandal, a runaway slave and master of black magic who has appeared in several novels including Alejo Carpentier's Kingdom of This World
    . The effect of such display of research is a novel that is as inert as a history textbook, much like, oddly enough John Updike's Terrorist
    , a novel that revealed an author who studied a voluminous amount of facts without learning a single truth.
    Slavery as a subject in fiction is still a high-wire act, but one expects more from Allende. Too often she forgoes the restraint and empathy essential for such a topic and plunges into a heavy breathing prose reminiscent of the Falconhurst novels of the 1970s, but without the guilty pleasure of sexual taboo. Sex, overwritten and undercooked, is where “opulent hips slithered like a knowing snake until she impaled herself upon his rock-hard member with a deep sigh of joy.” Even the references to African spirituality seem skin-deep and perfunctory, revealing yet another writer too entranced by the myth of black cultural primitivism to see the brainpower behind it.
    With Ines of My Soul
    one had the sense that the author was trying to structure a story around facts, dates, incidents, and real people. Here it is the reverse, resulting in a book one second-guesses at every turn. Of course there will be a forbidden love. Betrayal. Incest. Heartbreak. Insanity. Violence. And in the end the island in the novel's title remains legend. Fittingly so, because to reach the Island Beneath the Sea
    , one would have had to dive deep. Allende barely skims the surface.
    Marlon James's recent novel,

    The Book of Night Women was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award.

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    HarperCollins
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    All copies of this title, including those transferred to portable devices and other media, must be deleted/destroyed at the end of the lending period.

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Island Beneath the Sea
Island Beneath the Sea
A Novel
Isabel Allende
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