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Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 6391 comments Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
Island Beneath the Sea – Isabel Allende
Audiobook performed by S. Epatha Merkerson.

In a bit of a departure from her usual emphasis on Hispano-American history, Allende gives us a story of an 18th-century slave in French-occupied Saint-Domingue (later to become Haiti). We follow Zarité from her childhood through age forty, from Guinea to Saint-Domingue to Cuba and on to New Orleans.

Allende populates the novel with a wide variety of characters: Zarité’s French master and plantation owner Toulouse Valmorain; the free quadroon Violette Boisier who entertains a wide variety of gentlemen callers, chiefly Valmorain and the French military officer Etienne Relais; Valmorain’s Cuban wife Eugenia Garcia de Solars who is mother to his heir, Maurice; the local doctor Parmentier who is married to a mulatta woman Adele but keeps a separate house from that of his family; and a host of other characters too numerous to mention specifically.

Allende is more than up to the task of relating the historical events that frame this family drama. The time frame of the novel is 1770 to 1810, and we witness the slave rebellion that results in the French abandoning Saint-Domingue to the rebel leaders who will ultimately name it Haiti. As the French leave their plantations and the island for safe haven they migrate to the French colony in New Orleans. But just as they feel settled, Napoleon sells a large tract of land to the United States in what we know as the Louisiana Purchase. Against this backdrop of national and international upheaval, we have the family drama of Valmorain, his slave, Zarité, and their children.

I loved Zarité. She’s intelligent, resourceful, courageous, adaptable and wily. A keen observer and a good judge of character, she makes alliances and bides her time, acting when it is most advantageous to her and her family. And she needs every bit of these skills to navigate the dangerous relationships with Valmorains two wives; the mentally unstable Eugenia, and the cruel Hortense. Violette is also a richly drawn character – willful, intelligent, confident, loyal and loving. She has made the best of her situation and with the aid of her loyal servant Loula she will ensure the success of her family and those she holds dear. None of the men in her life are a match for her.

S. Epatha Merkerson does a fantastic job of voicing the audiobook. She gives each character a sufficiently unique voice that it is easy to follow the dialogue. But I particularly love the way in which she brings Zarité and Violette to life. These are two strong women, and Merkerson excels in interpreting their characters.

LINK to my review

Joanne (joabroda1) | 8421 comments I have this one by TBR and am looking forward to reading many books, so little time

Booknblues | 6856 comments I loved the history of the area that I learned when I read this.

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