Island Beneath the Sea…that is what we are…

Isabel Allende has been one of my favourite authors since I discovered her first book, The House of Spirits, when I was a teenager. Her work is layered, rich, intensely detailed without being overdone and is tinged with mystical elements. Her books remind me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez not only because they use similar locations, but because her books are about multi-generational families, love, politics and heartache. Her latest, Island Beneath the Sea, is a beautifully-written – if oddly-paced – novel that visits familiar territory without rehashing stories Allende has already told.

Island tells the story of Zarite, a girl born into slavery on the island of Saint-Domingue (now known as Haiti). She ends up on the plantation of the Frenchman Toulouse Valmorain, a man conflicted by his circumstances. Many characters are woven into the story, some more interesting than others. Island spends twenty-three years in Saint-Domingue where you meet the bulk of the important people and in which we spend a lot of time. I would have been more than happy should the story have remained – or ended – there, but there is also a time span of thirteen years in Louisiana.

Without giving too much away, I felt that much of the second segment was shoehorned in to promote the author’s political agenda. Not that I disagree with Allende’s assessment of slavery, power and religion; however, some of the exposition felt unneeded and slowed down the story. Characters we have not seen nor heard from in years suddenly return to take centre stage and because they are not as fleshed out those we have followed from the beginning and throughout, the book feels unbalanced.

In short, if you are a fan of Allende’s work, pick up Island. I was completely sucked into the story within the first 30 pages and it held me most of the way through. I still prefer her earlier works, but I’m very glad I read this and am looking forward to the next book! If you’re interested, you can read a snippet of the book here: http://browseinside.harpercollins.ca/index.aspx?isbn13=9780061988240&cm_mmc=ref-_-pub-_-rorschachtest-_-9780061988240

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~ by foodNURD on June 29, 2010.

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