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Posts Tagged ‘isabel allende’

I think that he put off his flight for me, for the way we looked at each other, the messages of little stones in the henhouse, the treats he stole for me in the kitchen, the anticipation of embracing each other that was like the prickling of pepper over all our bodies, and for those rare moments when we were alone and could touch.  “We will be free, Zarité, and we will be together forever.  I love you more than anyone, more than my father and his five wives, who were my mothers, more than my brothers and my sisters, more than all of them together, but not more than my honor.”  A warrior does what he has to do, that is more important than love, I understand that.  We women love more and for longer, too.  I also know that.  Gambo was prideful, and there is no greater danger for a slave than pride.

(from Island Beneath the Sea, pages 121-122)

Isabel Allende never fails to remind me why I love historical fiction and makes me question why I haven’t already read everything she’s written.  I’ve read three of her books now, and they always teach me something new and push me to do some research.  Island Beneath the Sea is a brilliantly crafted novel with much attention to historical detail, and Allende successfully tells a story about slavery and colonialism through the eyes of several very different characters, from a slave and a plantation owner to a prostitute and a soldier.

Island Beneath the Sea is an ambitious novel, but Allende makes writing about a complicated event in history look easy.  The story opens in Saint-Domingue, a French colony that eventually will become Haiti, the world’s first independent black republic.  Toulouse Valmorain travels to the island from France in 1770 to assume control of his father’s sugar plantation, Saint-Lazare.  He is a stylish man with an interest in books and intellectual conversation, and it takes him some time to adapt to the hot and humid climate and the fact that he now owns hundreds of African slaves.  He puts a mulatto overseer, Prosper Cambray, in charge, and while he does not support the harsh treatment of slaves who do not easily submit to their fate, Valmorain still views them as property and does not question the brutal punishments inflicted by Cambray.  After years spent getting the plantation under control and amassing a lot of money, Valmorain travels to Cuba for business and eventually brings home a Spanish bride with some serious mental problems.

Through his dealings with a mulatta prostitute in Le Cap, Valmorain purchases Zarité (Tété), who will live in his home and care for his wife and son.  Tété is the center of the novel, and Allende allows only her voice to be heard through the first person viewpoint.  In these chapters, many years have passed, and Tété looks back on the events of her life.  Tété, a slave born to an African mother and a white sailor, has lived a hard life, yet she discovers the power of love, develops a true affection for her master’s son, and continues to look toward the day when she will know freedom.  She doesn’t have to deal with the backbreaking work of cutting the sugar cane, but she is at the mercy of Valmorain, who is both attracted to her and dependent upon her.  The African drums and voodoo help her to survive.

Spanning many decades, Island Beneath the Sea shows in great detail the horrors of the plantations and civil war.  Allende writes about the complex class system of Saint-Domingue, comprised of grand blancs (rich whites), petits blancs (poor whites), affranchis (free people of color), and the slaves.  There is an uprising that pits the whites and the affranchis against one another, and the slaves — whose population greatly exceeds that of the whites — lead their own rebellion.  The French Revolution plays a major role in the uprising, with decrees giving affranchis political rights, a push to abolish slavery in Saint-Domingue, and some colonists wanting to declare independence from France and align themselves with Britain.  I knew nothing of this history before reading this book, and Allende does a great job weaving these events into the story.

Allende puts readers right into the action, allowing them to feel the fear of the plantation owner and his slave as they flee from the rebels and the tension of the chaos in Le Cap when civil war erupts.  She shows both the good and the bad in each of her characters, and focusing on one plantation, one master, and one slave makes the story more personal and emotional.  She takes readers on a journey from Saint-Domingue to Cuba to Louisiana, enriching the pages with history and descriptions of society, culture, and setting.  This book will break your heart with the detailed accounts of cruelty and you will question how people can treat human beings so horribly and allow slavery to continue into the present.  Tété’s plight will make your heart ache, but Allende’s prose is controlled so that it doesn’t become melodramatic.  Island Beneath the Sea strikes the right balance between history and emotion, and it was both hard to read and hard to put down.

Check out my reviews of other Isabel Allende books:

Inés of My Soul

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in the blog tour for Island Beneath the Sea. To follow the tour, which includes reviews of other Allende novels, click here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Island Beneath the Sea from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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There are things I have been too busy to tell you, and if I do not write them down now I will carry them with me to the tomb. Despite my desire to tell you everything, I have left out a lot. I have had to select only what is essential, but I am confident that I have not betrayed the truth. This is my story, and that of a man, Don Pedro de Valdivia, whose heroic feats were recorded by chroniclers in rigorous detail; his exploits will endure in those pages till the end of time. However, I know Valdivia in a way history could never know him: what he feared and how he loved.

(from Inés of My Soul, page 99)

J. Kaye Oldner gave me Inés of My Soul by Isabel Allende several months ago, and I regret not reading it sooner. This book was amazing, fascinating, captivating, and a historical fiction treat I didn’t want to end. I had no idea what the book was about when I picked it up. I remembered reading and enjoying Daughter of Fortune by Allende several years ago, and I thought it was about time I read something else by this renowned author.

Writing from the point of view of Inés Suárez, Allende immediately drew me into a world of Spanish conquistadors and the founding of Chile. The book covers the years 1500-1580 and drifts from the present to the past and back again. Inés, at age 70 and approaching death, decides to pen her memoirs for her daughter, and she proves to be a gifted story teller as she describes her early years in Spain, her failed first marriage, her travels to Peru to find her husband, her years as the lover of Pedro de Valdivia, the fierce battles against the Mapuche people of Chile, and her long and happy marriage to Rodrigo de Quiroga.

Inés also tells the story of Valdivia’s early battles, his failed marriage, and his journey to Peru and later to Chile in search of honor and glory–not gold, like most of the other Spanish soldiers. She describes Valdivia’s life in the years before they met as vividly as if she had been there. Theirs was a passionate love, but Valdivia changed in the years after he and Inés conquered Chile and began to build and rule cities together.

Inés is a strong woman, cooking and sewing to earn money to live on her own in the Americas, tending the wounded, and even wielding a sword against the Mapuche warriors. I admired her character for her strength, determination, passion, and willingness to admit her faults. She doesn’t mince words or sugarcoat the facts. She acknowledges what the Spaniards did as conquerors–raping, burning, enslaving, etc. She even highlights the strengths of the Mapuche and sometimes speaks of them in an admirable tone. She doesn’t condone the behavior of the Spaniards, but she does little to stop it. She acknowledges their weakness for gold, but she spends the riches and is proud of her achievements as a conquistadora. She was, in fact, the lover of Chile’s first royal governor and the wife of a later governor. Allende used the few facts known about Inés Suárez to create a complex character who commands respect, flaws and all.

We will, as Valdivia feared, eventually exterminate the natives of this land, because they would rather die free than live as slaves. And if any of us Spaniards had to choose, we would not hesitate to make the same choice. (page 119)

He [Francisco de Aguirre] had the notion that the best way to serve his majesty in the Americas was to people it with mestizos. He went so far as to say that the solution to the Indian problem was to kill all the males older than twelve, sequester the children, and patiently and methodically rape the women. Pedro always thought that his friend was joking, but I knew that he meant it. (page 135)

“Women cannot think on a grand scale; they cannot imagine the future; they lack a sense of history; they concern themselves only with domestic and immediate realities,” he [Pedro de Valdivia] told me once, but he had to retract his statement when I recited the list of everything that I and other women had contributed to the mission of conquering and founding. (page 191)

Inés of My Soul is translated from Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden. I’m sure something is lost in the translation, but the writing is beautiful nonetheless. Allende’s rich descriptions make the scene come alive, and each word is carefully chosen and never wasted. The pacing is perfect, with the tension building as they await an attack by the Mapuche. I highly recommend the book, especially for historical fiction lovers. However, I think it’s worth mentioning that there are some sex scenes and descriptive battle scenes, including some horrific acts of torture and executions. While the scenes aren’t overly graphic, they are still disturbing. They never made me want to shelve the book, as they are necessary to the plot, but others might want to take care.

Disclosure:  I received Inés of My Soul from another book blogger. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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