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Literature / Island Beneath The Sea

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Island Beneath the Sea (Spanish: La Isla Bajo el Mar) is a 2009 novel by Isabel Allende. The novel is quite different from Allende's most famous works and ows more to Historical Fiction than to Magical Realism.

The story is set in late 18th-century Haiti from the POV of Zarité "Teté" Sedella, an Haitian-born slave and her lifelong struggle to obtain freedom for her and her children. Her story is entangled with History, as she happens to live during the tough times of the Haitian Revolution, which is quite faithfully described. The second focus is on her master, the French planter Toulouse Valmorain, along with his Spanish brother-in-law Sancho, Madame Violette Relais, as they live through the revolution and eventually settle in Louisiana as it is about to be sold to the United States of America.

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The book displays the following tropes:

  • Aesop Amnesia: Toulouse Valmorain goes through multiple Break the Haughty experiences, but never learns anything from them:
    • Teté saves his neck during the slave revolt in exchange of her and Rosette's freedom. He then takes credit for their escape and frees them only when shamed by Father Antoine into doing so and never learns to treat Teté as a person.
    • His grossly rude treatment of Teté and Rosette, their daughter, costs eventually his relationship with his son, but never manages to grow out his racism.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Zarité lives free and so her husband and children, but Rosette is dead and Maurice is still grieving her and deserting their child, also he never repairs his relationship with his father.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: A tragically sympathetic example. Maurice and Rosette are half-siblings and in love in a society who doesn't allow them to treat each other like siblings because of Rosette's race but also reprimand their blooming romance.
  • But Not Too Black: In 18th-century Creole society, having darker or fairer skin could literally change your life:
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    • Zarité is a slave-born mulatto but she looks specifically black. Madame Violette and Teté's daughter Rosette are free quadroons (born of a white father and mulatto mother) and are able to pass themselves as white, if not of Hispanic heritage.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Violette Relais made a Carrer out of her beauty, but she is one of the most compassionate and good-hearted characters.
  • An Immigrant's Tale: Most of the main characters are Black Haitians, white Frenchmen and Spaniards who migrate to the recently American Louisiana after the Haitian revolution.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Valmorain's first wife Eugenia slowly loses her mind in Saint Domingue, due to her family history of mental illness (among women, her brother is sane if quite eccentric) and the increasing paranoia about a possible Slave Revolt.
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  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Violette initially founded herself with two lovers who treat their relationship as exclusive: rich planter Valmorain and military officer Étienne Relais, who has a rather modest income. Eventually the love triangle resolves itself peacefully, as Valmorain intentions were never serious, and Violette ends up happily married to Relais.
  • Slave Liberation: Saint Domingue slaves free themselves from their French master. Bloodily.
    • Teté spends the other half of the book and the rest of her life as a free woman.
  • Slave Revolt: The only successful one in human history. The book correctly displays what made the rebel slave win: the instability of revolutionary France and the slave/master ratio in the island (one master for ten slaves). It was really a now-or-never situation.
  • Surprise Incest: Subverted. Maurice and Rosette are revealed to be siblings when they declare their intention of getting married. It's subverted because they always knew they were siblings, but weren't allowed to behave as such and the distance put between them and puberty made sure that their feelings for each other turned out romantic.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Hortense Guizot marries Valmorain and spends years trying to conceive a son that would steal the right to inherit from Maurice, to no avail because Valmorain is too attached to his son, and because she keeps giving birth to daughters. Also is that to Rosette, she tried to pressure Valmorain into selling her at age 7 (but she couldn't because Rosette was already technically free) and instigates Rosette's imprisonment and eventual death.
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