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by Isabel Allende
Reviewed by C. Lariviere

Opening in Saint Domingue, this novel is a reflection on four decades in Zarité's life; from her meager beginnings as a child sold into slavery, to an adult woman striving for a good life for the ones she loves as she attempts to finally gain the freedom she so desires. We are introduced to her when Toulouse Valmorain, a young plantation owner from France, hires her to look over his wife. As Zarité endures her own internal battles, the island around her is rebelling. The black slaves are destroying the plantations of their white masters, forcing Valmorain to uproot his family to Cuba and then to Louisiana. Life there is not any easier, and Zarité is forced to do what she can with what she has.

Island Beneath the Sea looks promising, as it has a number of interesting elements: voodoo, slavery, uprisings, good, evil and an Allende favorite, forbidden love. With Allende's touch for storytelling, this book should have been fantastic, rather than just good.

There is no doubt that Isabel Allende has done her research, but, instead of letting the words dance on the page, Allende tries so hard to be historically accurate that she leaves the reader with the equivalent of a stale sex scene one expects from a relationship that has lost its passion and desire. (And yes, those scenes are also in the book.) It's not that the novel is poorly written. Allende is an excellent writer—and an even better storyteller—but her passion isn't as apparent here as in her earlier works. I must admit to a bias as I have been reading this author's works since The House of Spirits, and I expect only the best. Even so, I have great faith that a reader unfamiliar with Allende's work will find this novel mesmerizing. A seasoned Allende fan, however, will expect a little bit more.