La Isla Bajo el Mar is a 2009 novel by the Chilean author Isabel Allende. It was first published in the United States by HarperCollins. The book was published in Spanish in 2009 as La Isla Bajo el Mar, and was translated into English by Margaret Sayers Peden, who has translated all (except the first) of Allende’s books into English. The story unfolds during the Haitian Revolution.
Summary and Synopsis
Born on the island of Saint-Domingue, Zarité, known as Tété, is the daughter of an African mother she never knew and of one of the white sailors who led her into slavery. Although his childhood is filled with brutality and fear, Tété finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and the voodoo loo that he discovers through his fellow slaves.
When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrived on the island in 1770, he dreamed of powdered wigs on the trunk and dreamed of financial success. But managing his father’s plantation, Saint Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. Although Valmorain buys the young Tété for his girlfriend, it is he who will depend on the services of his teenage slave.
In the ruthless context of the sugar cane fields, the lives of Tété and Valmorain are increasingly intertwined. When the bloody Toussaint Louverture revolution reaches the gates of Saint Lazare, they flee from the brutal conditions of the French colony, which will soon become Haiti, for the noisy and free city of New Orleans.
There, Tété finally forges a new life, but his connection to Valmorain is deeper than anyone knows and is not easily cut. With an impressive wealth of detail and an unmatched narrative wit and verve, Allende elaborates the fascinating story of a woman’s determination to find love in the midst of loss, to offer humanity despite the fact that hers has been so mistreated. and to forge a new identity in the cruelest of circumstances.
Genre: Historical fiction
Of the many traps that lie in wait for the historical novel, the most dangerous is history itself. The best writers deform it for selfish ends (Gore Vidal), they dig for the untold inner story (Toni Morrison), or both (Jeannette Winterson). Allende, four years after Inés de mi alma, returns with another historical novel, one that absorbs so much past life that there is nowhere to go but where they have been innumerable.
Inaugurated in Saint Domingue a few years before the Haitian revolution destroyed it, history has at its center Zarité, a mulatto woman whose extraordinary life takes her from that blood-soaked island to the dangerous and rampant New Orleans; from rural slave life to Creole urban life and a different kind of cruelty and adventure. However, even in the new city, Zarité cannot free herself from the island and from the living and dead people who have followed it.
- Zarite Sedella: She worked tirelessly for her masters until Valmorain’s wife began to go crazy, from there at the age of twelve, Valmorain brutally rapes her and becomes pregnant with him not only once but twice. It represents the fighting woman, the self-sacrificing mother, heroine in the fight of the man she loved, she is placed as very intelligent although she never studied.
- Toulouse Valmorain: Man of French origin, studied that he must return to his father’s plantation in Haiti to take charge of it. He was a very cultured and refined man, but because he was in a rural environment he changed little by little until he became a country man.
- Rosette: The second daughter of Zarite and Valmorain, was a very beautiful girl with cinnamon skin, she was raised as a white daughter, her father loved her, she was sent to a nun school to study, she was in love with Maurice, and died when their son was being born.
- Maurice: He is the son of Valmorain with Eugenia, he was a very shy boy who falls in love with Rosette his half sister, he took care of her and protected her a lot despite the difference of races that existed at that time.
- Prosper Cambray: He was the foreman of the Valmoraín hacienda, a free mulatto, he persecuted the blacks who fled the hacienda, mistreated the slaves and abused the power he had over them.
- Violette Boisier: She was the most requested courtesan in town, beautiful and voluptuous is the one who helps Valmorain buy Zarite. She is the one who stays with the first zarite son with Valmorin, and raises him as her son.
- Jean Martin: Son of Zarite and Valmorain, product of the violations of this. Valmorain gives this boy to Violette and her lover Relais, he is raised as a free man and sent to France for his education.
- Loula: a black slave who took care of Violette at all times.
- Relais: French military man, client of Violette and in love with her, he marries her and raises the son of zarite, later in the rebellion he must leave them to fight against the rebelled Haitians and he dies.
- Eugenia del Solar: Valmorain’s wife and Maurice’s mother. A young woman, beautiful but very fragile, was not rich when she married Valmorain, and because she went to live on the plantation she began to go crazy until she died.
- Macandal: The black slave who escapes and rebels against the whites of the island, was made a myth in the work by saying that when he died he would become a mosquito and stay on the island.
- Gambo: enslaved African was taken to Santo Domingo, he always wanted to be free again, he falls in love with Zarite and with her he had intense loving encounters secretly from the master Valmorain. He flees during the rebellion and joins her ends up becoming a legend. Die in battle.
- Toussaint: he was a free black, he was the one who carried out the rebellion of blacks in Santo Domingo.
Slavery as a fictional theme is still a high-caliber act, but one expects more from Allende. All too often, she forgoes the restraint and empathy essential to such a subject, and plunges into breathless breathing prose reminiscent of Falconhurst novels of the 1970s, but without the guilty pleasure of the sexual taboo.
Sex, overwritten and undercooked, is where “the opulent hips slid like a knowing serpent until she impaled herself on his rock-hard limb with a deep sigh of joy.” Even references to African spirituality seem deep and superficial, revealing another writer too fascinated by the myth of black cultural primitivism to see the intellectual capacity behind it.
Despite the tragic nature of the story, there are encouraging moments on The Island Under the Sea, especially when Allende writes about Tété’s female self-reliance and the power of faith in the Voodoo loo. It also profoundly affects his description of the madness of racism and the distorted social codes it engenders.
The island under the sea is Allende’s classic: sensual, exciting and infused with a touch of magic. And although she experiences many heartbreaking moments, Tété is nothing more than a survivor and an inspiration. She will take her place alongside her many literary sisters: Blanca Trueba, Eliza Sommers, and the long line of tough female characters from Allende’s boundless imagination.