Monthly Archives: May 2013

Island Beneath the Sea

By Isabel Allende

By Isabel Allende

Haiti’s regional and historical position is unique for several reasons. It was the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean, the first black-led republic in the world, and the second republic in the Americas when it gained independence in 1804 as part of a successful slave revolution lasting nearly a decade. This novel is a human story about that time.

1. The story of this novel is steeped in historical events, yet it centers around the fictional slave girl, Zarite. How would you describe her? Zarete, for instance, demonstrates an indomitable strength of character yet at the same time submits passivly to Valmorain at his asking.

2. Tete describes her “island beneath the sea” as a paradise where “rhythm is born…it shakes the earth, it cuts through me like a lightning bolt and rises toward the sky….” What does Tete mean? What is the thematic significance of her island to this novel?

3. How would you describe Toulouise Valmorain. Is he a monstrous villain…or is he a more complicated individual, forced to subvert his ideals to the pressures of plantation life?

4. Aside from master/slave, what are the complications in the relationship between Valmorain and Tete? In what ways are the two dependent upon one another?

5. What insights into the conditions of slavery does this book provide?

6. Some readers/reviewers have criticized this novel as melodramatic (excessive prose style, stereotypical characters (all good or all evil), sex-drenched scenes, disaster-prone plot). Others see the the work as an exciting, complex portrait of history and characters. Where do you stand?

7. Talk about the role of Voodoo in this work. What is the loa…and who is Erzulie, a name that becomes a refrain throughout the book? What does she represent? Voodo continues to exists today—how you account for its power and endurance? Also, talk about how the two faiths, Voodoo and Christianity, occasionally mingle in this book.

8. How does Allende depict the life and culture of the wealthy French who control the island of Saint-Dominque before the rebellion?

9. How well does Allende combine historical events with her fictional narrative? Some believe her overlaying of history onto the story is clumsy; others say the history is beautifully interwoven. What is your opinionl…and can you point to examples that support your views?

10. Talk about New Orleans section of the novel. How different is life there from Saint Dominique?

11. This book is particularly rich in secondary characters— Violette, Etienne Rilais, Gambo, Tante Rose, Permentier. Which ones do you find most interesting…or sympathetic?

12. Does this book end on a note of hope…or despair? In what way is the second generation a window on the future?