Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea


Allende, I., & Peden, M. S. (2010). Island beneath the sea: A novel. New York: Harper. 9780061988240

A few years ago, I picked up Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune. Allende cast her spell on me with her characters and her storytelling. Oddly enough, several years passed by before I read another Allende work. As it happened, I chose her latest work Island Beneath the Sea which I requested through HCPL.

Allende tells the stories of numerous people living on 1700s Saint-Domingue (Haïti). First, she introduces readers to the young Toulouse Valmorain. He and the female Valmorains live comfortably in France thanks to his father’s sugarcane plantation, Saint Lazare, in Saint-Domingue.

His planter father sends a letter, requesting Valmorain to come the island in 1770. Valmorain arrives on the island, receiving a rude awakening. The elder Valmorain can no longer run Saint Lazare. So, it falls to Valmorain to make a go of it, turning Saint Lazare into a profitable plantation. Settling into Saint-Domingue, Valmorain marries a Spaniard Eugenia living in Cuba. In the midst of all of this, Valmorain purchases a slave to serve Eugenia.

This slave is a child named Zarité – called Tété. She’s the daughter of an enslaved African woman and a sailor. Tété leads a harsh existence and discovers comfort in voodoo and the slave community. Numerous passages in the book are related by an adult Tété. The rest of the novel told in third person.

Tété endures many abuses and hardships at the hands of Valmorain, who aims to be a “benevolent slave owner.” Yet, they later flee to New Orleans – together.

All I can say without further spoiling the plot is that I found the storytelling and character development of Tété mesmerizing. I also enjoyed learning about the enterprising courtesan Violette and Dr. Parmentier, the man of science with twenty-first century ethics. I even appreciated the complexity of Valmorain. Characters such as Gambo, Maurice, Rosette, Zacharie, and the Murphy family seemed unrealized, though. I could’ve easily done without Hortense! Nonetheless, I guess there was need for such a catalyst.

I also felt Allende did well with the rising action and then slammed the reader into a wretched nightmare that was Tété’s early life. Then, in the New Orleans part, the novel seemed rushed. I wanted to find out more about New Orleans life as well as denouement for Tété and her family. Overall, it was good storytelling but the plot needed help.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Places:

France, Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Cuba, New Orleans

For more on Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea, please check out the following links:

Advertisements

Kimberley Heuston’s Napoleon: Emperor and Conqueror


Heuston, K. (2010). In Napoleon: Emperor and conqueror. New York: Franklin Watts. 9780531212776

Of  “A Wicked History” Series, the one about Napoleon was the first one I borrowed from HCPL. My dad managed to read this one before I did, too.

On 15 August 1769, Nabullione Buonoparte was born in the newly French land of Corsica. His folks had Italian leanings but this didn’t prevent them from sending their sharp son away to French military school. While his mother may have seen Nabullione’s gifts for math and strategy, nobody could’ve predicted he would rise to the title of emperor.

Napoleon Bonaparte (the French version of his name) made himself the ruler of the French Empire in 1804. A great general who slept very little, picked fights, and found himself, ultimately, at rock bottom.

Within his madness, I found some sympathy for Napoleon. Then, I would remember the way he treated his wife, his beloved Josephine, or how he maniacally marched troops all over the Old World to please himself. Still and all, his mark on history is indelible. Napoleon inspired Beethoven’s Eroica and what Alfred Adler termed the “Napoleon Complex.” This was also the man who brought the Napoleonic Code.

Wicked? Mad? Overcompensating? All of the above? Who’s to say?

My favorite part was the author’s note. Heuston described how a student teacher imitated Napoleon in a lecture, hand in cardigan, because Napoleon had no pockets. This made Heuston ask, “Is it legal for school to be this fun?”

Four out of Five Pearls

Quote:

My business is to succeed, and I’m good at it.

– Napoleon to Pope Pius VII in 1804

Word Bank: (from the glossary of this book)

  • battalion – a large unit of soldiers; in Napoleon’s armies, a unit of about 840 soldiers
  • blockade – the closing off of an area to keep people or supplies from moving in or out
  • bubonic plague – a serious disease that spreads quickly and often causes death
  • commission – a written order giving rank in the armed services
  • constitution – the system of laws in a country that state the rights of the people and the powers of the government
  • consul – any of the three chief executives of France from 1799 to 1804; Napoleon was First Consul, the most important of the three
  • Directory – the executive body, made up of five men, that led France from 1795 to 1799.
  • egotist – someone who has an exaggerated sense of self importance
  • embargo – an official ban on trade or other commercial activity with a particular country
  • envoy – a person appointed to represent one government in its dealings with another
  • exemption – a release from a rule that others have to follow
  • exile – the state of being barred from one’s native country
  • fraternity – the state or feeling of friendship and mutual support within a group
  • guerrilla – describing a type of warfare in which small groups of fighters launch surprise attacks against an official army
  • guillotine – a large machine with a sharp blade used to sever heads of criminals
  • hieroglyphics – writing used by ancient Egyptians, made up of pictures and symbols
  • legislature – a group of people who have the power to make or change laws for a country or state
  • Napoleonic Code – the first modern organized body of law governing France, established by Napoleon in 1804
  • republic – a form of government in which citizens have the power to elect representatives who manage the government
  • revolution – an uprising by the people of a country that changes the country’s system of government
  • Royalist – a person who supported the monarchy during the French Revolution

Places: Corsica, France, Italy, Egypt, Prussia, Russia

Music:

For more on Napoleon, please see the following:

Google Doodle honors Jean-Paul Sartre Today


Flickr CC | Sartre | Photo by: Adam NFK Smith

By Luigi Lugmayr

The Google homepage diversion today is in honor of Jean-Paul Sartre.
Sartre was born on June 21st 1905 and died on April 15th 1980. Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the leading figures in 20th century existentialism.
You can find out more about Sartre on Wikipedia before you continue you work. To dig even deeper, you can read these books written by Sartre.
Just do not forget what you were actually searching on Google for.
Past Google Doodles are listed here. 

The Google homepage diversion today is in honor of Jean-Paul Sartre.
Sartre was born on June 21st 1905 and died on April 15th 1980. Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the leading figures in 20th century existentialism.
You can find out more about Sartre on Wikipedia before you continue you work. To dig even deeper, you can read these books written by Sartre.
Just do not forget what you were actually searching on Google for.
Past Google Doodles are listed here.

A Turn of the Wheels; Katherine by Anya Seton


Goodreads | Katherine by Anya Seton

Seton, A., & Gregory, P. (2004). Katherine a novel. Chicago, Ill:Chicago Review Press. 9781556525322

Katherine tells the story of actual Katherine Swynford (neé de Roet), a pivotal player in the history of English royalty. In the Fourteenth Century, lady in-waiting to Queen Philippa, Philippa de Roet sends for her younger sister, Katherine. Katherine de Roet has been living at a small, country convent. With the prioress, Katherine makes the journey to London. Innocent Katherine takes the London court by storm with her beauty. She comes to the attention of rough knight, Hugh Swynford, and John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of the king and Blanche, the Duchess of Lancaster. Katherine more than reluctantly marries Swynford but the Lancasters do not forget Katherine. In a few years, while John of Gaunt and Swynford are dealing with the 100 Years War, a plague claims many victims including Blanche of Lancaster. However, Katherine eases Blanche’s suffering and finds a priest to administer the Duchess’s last rites. In grief, John of Gaunt takes notice of the lovely Katherine and gives her her own coat of arms, bearing three wheels which signify St. Catherine and Katherine’s maiden name, de Roet. From there, the relationship escalates into an affair which has stunning and long lasting effects on not only their contemporaries but their descendants as it precipitates the Wars of the Roses.

This particular work of historical fiction is remarkable in the amount of research done on an era long past in order to make the novel seem authentic. Having published this in the 1950s, Anya Seton had to research. While most of the narrative takes place in England, Katherine and other characters are Flemish and speak French. Seton’s characters sometimes converse in an older form of French. In a note preceding the novel, Seton explained that she used the names of people she saw in registers. Also, most of the characters are real: Katherine, John of Gaunt, Katherine’s brother in-law Geoffrey Chaucer, John Wycliffe, etc. Seton provides much detail of Medieval English life. With this, the reader experiences the difficulty of survival, particularly of women such as Katherine.

My mom remembered reading this book as a teenager and this spurred her interest in both English history and literature. When I read it, I was fascinated by the book and some of the people who made cameos. The mention of John Wycliffe has spurred quite a bit of amateur research on my part. In reading the 2004 version, I was able to read a foreword by Philippa Gregory (writer, The Other Boleyn Sister). Like Gregory, I think Seton set the tone for the historical novel. Seton did her homework and her creation was a labor of love. Gregory also points out how Seton subscribed to Freudian concepts and had a 1950s mindset. Although I agree with this as well, I think Katherine is an excellent work.

I would recommend Katherine to the female historical fiction audience. It is a bit romantic. Also, this would be a great introduction to some nonfiction work on English history. The world’s interest in Katherine Swynford has led to many websites dedicated to her. Readers may catch the craze. Also, the reader must not be opposed to long novels; Katherine is over 500 pages.

Four out of Five Pearls