Thursday, March 31, 2011

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende ***

The only other book I've read by Isobel Allende before this was Daughter of Fortune, which I liked a great deal. She writes of strong women in her books, women who have to overcome severe adversity to find happiness. In general I like that theme, I'm sure most women do--we all feel that though our lives in developed countries are much easier now, we still have adversity we must overcome in order to find some meaning in our world.

For that reason I thought I'd like Island Beneath the Sea very much. It tells the story of Tete, a Haitian slave in the late 1700's (Haiti was called Saint Domingue at this time). Her life is the result of a rape on a slave ship, and her own mother rejected her at birth because of this. Raised as a house slave in a life of extreme hardship, she knows that it could be worse--she could be a field slave, who's lives were worth so little to their owners that they barely fed them, just worked them to death and then purchased more.

Tete's main challenge in her life is to stay alive and care for her children. She includes Maurice, her master's son by his wife, as her child and loves him as much as her own. Living through the slave uprising in Saint Domingue and later finding her own place in New Orleans society, Tete always keeps her pride and continues to love and care for those around her, despite the cruelty that is heaped on her.

I loved the descriptions of life at this time and in this place. Haiti has always fascinated me, and it's interesting to see the extreme violence that this impoverished country has sprung from. When you read about the evil that humans perpetrated on their fellow man in this place, whether it be the Arawak Indians or the slaves, it leaves you feeling like Haiti is a country that deserves to finally have some peace.

Despite my interest in the history of this story, I had a hard time with it only because it seemed like Tete was used as a vehicle to tell the history of this time and she was put in one situation after another just to enable it to be told. I know that's the whole point of historical fiction, but I guess I'm saying it was just a little too much for me. I would have liked to have heard more about Saint Domingue after to uprising, and some was told, but she was whisked away in the book to New Orleans so the author could then expound on that place. I think I would have liked this to be two books, or one book with two characters, one in Haiti and one in New Orleans.

Overall the book is very well written and I do recommend it. I just was a little blown away by how much history was packed into one character's life.

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