Tag Archives: historical fiction

Book Review: La Isla Bajo el Mar

La isla bajo el marLa isla bajo el mar by Isabel Allende

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The poignant story of Zarité, a black slave in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and later in New Orleans in the 18th Century.

I have read this book in the original language (Spanish), and Allende’s prose is simple and elegant, yet extremely vivid. The book is a mix of fairly detailed historical fiction and the slave Zarité’s voice, which brings an element of immediacy to the events. When she speaks for Zarité, Allende can shock us with the casual way the slave speaks of her treatment (e.g., her master extinguishing his cigar on her), and so gives us the utter helplessness of the slave.

But Allende shows us also the cost of becoming free–a fact that Haiti, in a way, has never recovered from–and, despite the inescapable disgust of slavery she creates in the reader, she also succeeds in making us see the slave owners’ point of view, in all its callousness, insensitivity, greed, and ignorance.

If I have one criticism it’s the slow pace of the book, maybe due to the detailed historical events she uses as parentheses to the story. It was sometimes a bit plodding, although it opened my eyes to the plight of the slaves at the inception of the slave trade.

Well worth the read.

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