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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. Though her childhood is one of brutality and fear, Tété finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and the voodoo loa she discovers through her fellow slaves.

When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it’s with powdered wigs in his trunks and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father’s plantation, Saint Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. Although Valmorain purchases young Tété for his bride, it is he who will become dependent on the services of his teenaged slave.

Against the merciless backdrop of sugarcane fields, the lives of Tété and Valmorain grow ever more intertwined. When the bloody revolution of Toussaint Louverture arrives at the gates of Saint Lazare, they flee the brutal conditions of the French colony, soon to 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. With an impressive richness of detail, and a narrative wit and brio second to none, 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 a new identity in the cruelest of circumstances.

Publishers Weekly Review

Apr 05, 2010 – Reviewed by Marlon JamesOf 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.

Customer Reviews


Well it's ok - good but i am a big fan. My fav would be city of the beast.

Beautiful Story Telling

In her trademark prose Isabelle takes us into the lives of slaves and plantation owners in the former French colony of Haiti. At times disturbing in its raw description of cruelty and inhuman suffering, it's enchanting and hopeful, erotic and philosophical, and political as much as a mirror on the human soul that allowed atrocities like slavery to exist for as long as it did. Spelbinding!

Evokes such a spectrum of emotions.

Difficult to put this story down was you start! Allende has such an amazing way of interweaving stories of love, terror, sadness, longing, and spirituality. Be sure to try her short story collection, Stories of Eva Luna as well.
I feel affected by sorrow and hope after reading this. My only complaint would be that I wanted to know more of the stories, more information about each of the lives she presented. Yet, it's the depth which she can maintain in such a succinct way that makes her tales so poignant and accessible to readers coming from many different perspectives.

Island Beneath the Sea
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  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Literary
  • Published: Apr 27, 2010
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books
  • Seller: HarperCollins
  • Print Length: 480 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings

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