Review: The Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

I always thought I’d read quite a bit by Isabel Allende. I know i’ve read City of the Beasts, because I bought it for my mum when I was younger and I always end up reading the thing is buy her. And I’ve read Daughter of Fortune and enjoyed it. But I read the blurbs to My Invented Country and Portrait in Sepia and Zorro – books I could swear I’ve read – and nothing rings a bell. I can see I’ll have to grab them from the library in the near future, along with Aphrodite and the other auto-biographical books.

Anyway, I’m glad I picked this up. I’ve heard it described as a ’sweeping’ historical novel and I think that’s an apt description. One that I’m trying hard to explain, but apt. It’s a long book – I read it over two nights and was very, very tired for both the following days. But it doesn’t get boring, it doesn’t have any filler bulking it up – you get the feeling Allende actually CUT stuff in order to fit this many pages, the prose is perfectly streamlined and exacting – and every word is brilliant. Allende doesn’t tell a story, she weaves one. Each thread is determined, examined, introduced and then entwined. The end result is a beautiful story, full of detail.

It’s the story of Zarite, a mulatto slave on a St Domingue (now Haiti) sugar plantation. Bought to care for the master’s enfeebled wife and young son, Maurice, Zarite is repeatedly raped by Toulouse Valmorain, the owner of the plantation, and bears him two children, the second of whom she is allowed to keep. When the plantation is overwhelmed by rebel forces, Zarite and her lover save the master and his son in exchange for her freedom. When they arrive in New Orleans, Zarite begs Toulouse to let her go, but he refuses, instead keeping her on his new plantation despite the aggravation of the new mistress over the existence of Rosette, the beautiful quadroon daughter of Zarite and Toulouse, and her relationship with Maurice.

Ok, so the story is impossible to sum up in short paragraphs. Just read it. Make the effort, it’s worth it!


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