What We’re Reading Wednesday

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
Harper, April 27, 2010

I wrote about Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea two months ago, and that post has consistently showed up on our most viewed list—proof that we’ve got a lot of Allende fans following The Book Case. Last week I got my hands on an advance copy of the book, and I’ve been racing through it ever since.

So far (I’m about two-thirds finished), the major event in the novel has been the Haitian slave rebellion led by Toussaint Louverture at the turn of the 18th century. The narrative is alternately told from a third-person point of view and from the perspective of Zarité, known as Tété, a mulatto girl who works as a house slave on a sugarcane plantation. Tété wants nothing more than to be free with her children and with Gambo, a slave-turned-rebel. After a rebel mob burns the plantation and takes over Le Cap, the remarkable Tété saves her master and her children’s lives and flees with them to Cuba, then New Orleans.

You’ll have to read the book for yourself to learn why Tété—brave and dignified in the face of cruelty—saves her insufferable master. And as I continue reading, I can only hope that she escapes from slavery and finds her lover.

Note that this cover is for the Spanish version of the novel, published in August by Vintage.

Music is a wind that blows away the years, memories, and fear, that crouching animal I carry inside me. With the drums the everyday Zarité disappears, and I am again the little girl who danced when she barely knew how to walk. I strike the ground with the soles of my feet and life rises up my legs, spreads up my skeleton, takes possession of me, drives away distress and sweetens my memory. The world trembles. Rhythm is born on the island beneath the sea; it shakes the earth, it cuts through me like a lightning bolt and rises toward the sky, carrying with it my sorrows so that Papa Bondye can chew them, swallow them, and leave me clean and happy. The drums conquer fear. The drums are the heritage of my mother, the strength of Guinea that is in my blood. No one can harm me when I am with the drums, I become as overpowering as Erzulie, loa of love, and swifter than the bullwhip. The shells on my wrists and ankles click in time, the gourds ask questions, the djembe drums answer in the voice of the jungle and the timbales, with their tin tones. The djun djuns that know how to speak make the invitation, and the big maman roars when they beat her to summon the loas. The drums are sacred, the loas speak through them.

Related in BookPage: Read an interview with Allende or browse her other titles.

What are you reading today?

6 Responses to What We’re Reading Wednesday

  1. Kerry says:

    Currently reading Kingdom of Ohio (I received the galley in December and I’m just now getting to it). Also reading Guns of the South for work – AK-47s in the Civil War. Interesting concept!

  2. crazycris says:

    You mean if her freedom gets recognised (i.e. she doesn’t get swindled by her master or lose a certain piece of paper)! ;o)
    I look forward to reading your final views once you’re finished… I sped through it so fast I’m going to enjoy reading it again when I get it back! (it’s currently off on the “loan” circuit between my parents and friends)

  3. Eliza says:

    Yes! If her freedom gets recognized (although at the point I’m at now — Hortense just moved in — that moment seems a long way off…).

  4. Marie Burton says:

    @Kerry I enjoyed The Kingdom of Ohio

    I have yet to sit down and read Allende’s work but have collected them. Thanks for posting the excerpt, it displays the prose well.

  5. Vicki says:

    I just started “Three Days Before the Shooting” the work that puts together what Ralph Ellison was writing when he died. At over 1,100 pages I’ll be reading it for some time to come!

  6. […] of the Spirits was especially notable, capturing the author’s flowing prose and mystical imagery. Island of the Sea (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden) is no […]

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