This book contains two major themes. First, it is a historical novel describing the Haitian slave rebellion (1791–1804) and New Orleans' Creole society and culture of the same era. Second, the book provides a clever fictional plot that shows the ironic difficulties that can arise in a strictly racially segregated slave holding society where there's an in between mulatto class who are blood relatives to both black and whites, and everybody pretends the relationships don't exist.
I enjoyed the story plot with women at the forefront, the novel's respectful portrayal of voodoo practices using native herbs and medicines, depiction of Haitian plantation life during the time of slavery, and finally Haiti's slave rebellion. The second half of the book focuses on life in Louisiana during the time of transition from Spanish to French, and then French to American rule.
I am not a fan of magical realism, and Allende's writing has a reputation of being in that genre. In the case of this book, however, it only shows up in the context of Haitian Voodoo practices which I found to be fitting. It helped communicate the experience of living within that sort of culture/belief system.
My star rating for this book suffers from the fact that I recently read Hilary Mantel's Bring Up The Bodies
which knocked my socks off. Allende's writing is good but ordinary in comparision to Mantel.
Here's a short review of this book from the PageADay Book Lover's Calendar for March 30, 2013:
Set on the 18th-century Haitian island of Saint-Dominique, this novel tells the intertwined stories of Tete, the enslaved daughter of an African mother and a white sailor, and Toulouse, a newly arrived Frenchman entrusted with running his father’s plantation. The unflinching narrative doesn’t attempt to simplify the complexities of the time period or the conflicting needs of the characters, and the resulting drama is rich and compelling.ISLAND BENEATH THE SEA
, by Isabel Allende (Harper Perennial, 2010)