July Book Club Discussion: Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

  • July 27, 2014 · 4:00 PM
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Come join us for a discussion about Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende! Please make sure that you RSVP to the event and update your RSVP if you can't make it at the last minute. 

A summary of the book: Born on the island of Saint-Domingue, Zarité—known as Tété—is the daughter of an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage. Though her childhood is one of brutality and fear, Tété finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and the voodoo loa she discovers through her fellow slaves.

When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it’s with powdered wigs in his trunks and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father’s plantation, Saint Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. Although Valmorain purchases young Tété for his bride, it is he who will become dependent on the services of his teenaged slave.

Against the merciless backdrop of sugarcane fields, the lives of Tété and Valmorain grow ever more intertwined. When the bloody revolution of Toussaint Louverture arrives at the gates of Saint Lazare, they flee the brutal conditions of the French colony, soon to become Haiti, for the raucous, free-wheeling enterprise of New Orleans. There Tété finally forges a new life, but her connection to Valmorain is deeper than anyone knows and not easily severed. With an impressive richness of detail, and a narrative wit and brio second to none, Allende crafts the riveting story of one woman’s determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been so battered, and to forge a new identity in the cruelest of circumstances.



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  • Mark F.

    Turns out Lincoln was a Kaintuck, sort of. According to Wikipedia: "In the spring of 1831, hired by a New Salem businessman Denton Offutt and accompanied by friends, he took goods by flatboat from New Salem to New Orleans via the Sangamon, Illinois, and Mississippi rivers. After arriving in New Orleans—and witnessing slavery firsthand—he walked back home." I don't know if they still used that word for people who did that by 1831, but that was what the Kaintucks originally were (http://www.nps.gov/natr/historyculture/kaintuck.htm).

    August 19

  • Micheala

    Keeping with this tradition, Isabel Allende’s grandfather seems to not only have become Esteban Trueba in The House of the Spirits, but to have also become the character Toulouse Valmorain in Island Beneath the Sea. Both Trueba (in Chile) and Valmorain (in Santo Domingo) are large land-owners who inherited their property that was neglected by the generation before them. The land was worked by slaves (indigenous peons in Chiles and African slaves in Santo Domingo). They both considered it acceptable behavior to rape girl slaves when they reached puberty and fathered a number of illegitimate mixed-race children. They both considered themselves to be model plantation or hacienda owners, because they treated their slaves better than their neighboring land barons treated their slaves. Both characters reveal love and tenderness to legitimate child descendents.

    3 · July 29

    • Jennifer

      Wow, thank you for sharing this with is, Michaela. Wow...She exhibited such a huge degree of healing in being able to write about Valmorain with such honesty, nuance, grace and sensitivity. I'm glad for her that she was able to work this through, through her art.

      July 29

  • Monika

    I agree with you Michelea. This is a microcosim of what Africans have had to endure in order to survive in the Western Hemisphere. It may sound horrific to us..... but at that time it was the norm and not questioned.
    And ....the beat goes on!!!
    We are here to change it. Yea!!

    July 29

  • Joicey H.

    Fascinating. No wonder she understood the condition of life & could develop such complex charaacters.

    July 29

  • Lakisha

    Another fascinating discussion!

    July 28

  • Monika

    really enjoyed the discussion

    1 · July 28

  • Christy

    Here's a link to the Implicit Associations Test site. They have expanded to include a wide range of classification categories, beyond just race: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

    July 28

  • Mark F.

    I always have so much fun sharing ideas with this group of people!

    July 27

  • Mark F.

    Just had a funny thought - I think Rosette would have been around the same age as Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. Maybe that seems completely uninteresting, but it always fascinates me to think about how different bits of history (real or at least with real settings) can feel like completely separate universes even though they aren't.

    Meanwhile, in Switzerland, Victor Frankenstein was getting ready to start a series of experiments....

    OK, I'm a geek, I just love crossovers.

    1 · July 27

  • Lynette

    Hello Readers, Please make sure that you update your RSVP today or tomorrow if you don't plan on attending. It makes it easier on the host to know how many people to expect and to reserve a large enough table at the cafe. Thank you!

    July 25

  • Jennifer

    Sorry, I misspelled your name...Micheala!

    July 20

  • Jennifer

    My chorus' summer concert is at 3 pm on the 27th, which is why I thought I couldn't attend. But, it turns out the concert will just be about an hour, so I'm come afterwards. I'll be late, but I'll be there! I look forward to discussing the rich and evocative book. Thanks for suggesting it, Michaeala!

    July 20

  • Jennifer

    I look forward to reading the July book, even though I won't be able to come to the meeting. Be well, hope to see many of you this coming Sunday.

    June 18

13 went

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