Island Beneath the Sea, Isabel Allende, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2010, 457 pp
I am an unabashed fan of Isabel Allende and have read all of her novels. Recently she has toned down the magical realism that was such a strong flavor in her early books and I don't guess she has ever topped The House of the Spirits, but as a storyteller she always excels. Truthfully the magic is still there because the people whose stories she tells believe in it as part of life.
Island Beneath the Sea, set in late 1700s Saint-Domingue (which became Haiti) is the story of Zarite, a sugar plantation house slave. It covers a time period and subject matter similar to Andrea Levy's The Long Song. Levy's book was set in Jamaica so it was interesting to see the parallel history of slavery on both islands.
Later in Allende's book, after the slave rebellion, Zarite and her master relocate to New Orleans, giving the author the scope to explore sugar plantation and Creole society there at the turn of the 19th century through the eyes of both a white master and a slave. In My Big Fat Reading Project, I have visited New Orleans many times, so I felt right at home.
What I love most about Allende's sensibility is her basic premise that women, for better or for worse, actually run the world because of their love of men, their sort of underground network and behind the scenes machinations, all of which are driven by a purpose to create children and families; to provide healing and wisdom; to deliver men from their foolishness. She makes me ponder questions about male/female balance and master/slave dynamics in a more spiritual, organic way than authors like Toni Morrison or Margaret Atwood, adding another facet to the equation.
(Island Beneath the Sea is available in hardcover while the supply lasts on the new book shelves (also called The Barn) at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)