Tuesday, April 20, 2010

16. THE ISLAND UNDER THE SEA - Isabel Allende

Published first in Spanish, this book's English release was pushed back after the earthquake in Haiti. However, now is the perfect time to read about the beginning of the Haitian culture with its mix of freedom and oppression. Seeing the poverty during the telethons did not share its historical grace and pride: this was the first country to be recognized as a free black union during a time when Marie Antoinette and her prince lost their heads during the revolution. What an amazing historical time to write about.

However, the state of "French" life in Haiti, known as Saint-Domingue, was quite different in the late 1790s. Life revolved around the sugar and rum plantations. You were a white planter or businessman, a mulatto soldier or madame, or a black slave. According to Allende, at one point, there were only about 30,000 free souls compared to half a million slaves on the small island.

All of this is background to the story of Tete, who is sold to Toulouse Valmorain as a maid to his wife. Later, Tete becomes the backbone of the inner workings of the plantation, and Valmorain relies on her as he would a mistress.

But Tete's heart does not beat hard for her master; instead, she falls for one of the revolutionaries. In typical Allende style, all of the intertwinings of plot bob and weave until a somewhat predictable ending. This time, however, I was not convinced, as I had been when I read Daughter of Fortune. This time, I thought the ending was rushed, and many of the the braids loosened.

Still, for a spring/summer read, this is a fascinating look at history in both Haiti and New Orleans, where many of the refugees relocated after the revolution. I always love a brainy, sexy read.

3.75 out of 5.0 Island Martinis.