Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review:: Island Beneath the Sea, by Isabel Allende

Title: Island Beneath the Sea
Author: Isabel Allende
Format: Hardcover
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I really love Isabel Allende. Her beautiful, evocative prose. Her stories that predominantly cast strong, capable women. Her blurring of reality, wishes, and spirituality. Island Beneath the Sea was a wonderful (but difficult) read, however, I feel like it doesn't hold a candle to some of her other works.

Island Beneath the Sea follows the stories of a handful of people in Haiti, back when it was a French Colony and not Haiti at all. It takes them through the slave revolt and all the way to Louisiana, traveling the murky difficulties of not just slavery, but also the complex societal setup guided by racism, the obsession with whiteness and exactly how much black blood was in your lineage.

It's also less overtly magical realism than say, The House of the Spirits, but it certainly has its moments. The prose is also shockingly gorgeous in parts, then stark and damaging when it needs to be. Granted, this is a translation of the original Spanish, but considering Allende is fluent in English, I'm sure the translation holds to the spirit of the original.

This book is not something to lightly read. It deals with so much, most often from the perspective of the victim(s). Its ending is bittersweet. Every victory in the book feels tainted in some way. Like real life, the characters in Island Beneath the Sea experience a give and take.

Allende also seems to recognize something I wish more people would:

Forgiveness is not for the person you're forgiving. It's for yourself.

Don't be discouraged by the 3-star rating. I do actually heavily recommend this book. It just felt... somehow not as impressive as I was hoping. Perhaps I went in with too grand of expectations.

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