Island Beneath the Sea
by Isabel Allende

Harpercollins, 2010. ISBN 978-0-061-98824-0.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 06/08/2010

Fiction: Historical

Isabelle Allende is a master storyteller, and she has once again gifted us with a glorious tale of a young girl's struggle and maturation. Zarité, called Tete, is a child slave who finds joy when she can. She is a house slave on the island of Sant-Domingue, later called Haiti, in the late 1700's. An intelligent child, she is mentored first by old Honore and later, by Tante Rose, wise older slaves.

Allende sweeps us into the tumultuous period when French colonists ruthlessly ruled the island, through times of slave uprisings and the exile of the lucky whites who escaped. Tete helps her owner Toulouse Valmorain and his child, whom she has raised, escape, first to Cuba, then to flamboyant New Orleans. There, after several years, she becomes free and mixes with the vibrant black, mulatto and quadroon society.

The heat of weather and passion is ever present, with gradations of passion often matching the gradations of color. The overwhelming majority of privileged whites have no understanding of their slaves' humanity. We, the readers, however, are allowed a glimpse.

Rich and lush, full of passion and brutality as well as simple kindnesses and love, Island Beneath the Sea captures our imagination and holds us until the last page.

Isabelle Allende, raised in Chile, is the author of 9 novels, all of which were NY Times bestsellers. Her books have been translated into 27 different languages. She lives in California. Visit her website.

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