Sunday, October 10, 2010

An Allendean Tale: Island Beneath the Sea

I remember the first time I read an Allende novel - The House of the Spirits.  I loved that book for its sweeping story line and multitude of characters couched within the style of magic realism.

It is interesting to have read The House of the Spirits, Allende's first novel written in 1982, and now Island Beneath the Sea, written over 25 years later.  Both books are written in Allende's trademark style characterized by lush descriptions, epic timeframes, a focus on history and place, and even a requisite "madwoman."

Island Beneath the Sea marks a departure for Allende, as a work of historical fiction set in Saint Domingue (present-day Haiti) and New Orleans in the late 18th century.  The novel tells the story of Zarite (known as Tete), a biracial slave who is purchased by Toulouse Valmorain, a French plantation owner.  

Ultimately, I appreciate Allende's work, as many of her stories feature female protagonists, thus giving voice to perspectives that have often gone unspoken or unheard.  In this book, I found the descriptions to be too flowery and long, and I found myself skimming over some sections.  I also did not feel that the historical information was woven seamlessly into the novel.

Allende is a treasure, but I would recommend her earlier works instead of her latest novel.  Try The House of the Spirits or Daughter of Fortune.

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