The story of the Haitian revolution is a bizarrely twisted tail. The revolution began as an uprising by the slaves, became a civil war between the French and the mulatos (mixed race, free people) to a slave revolution. General Toussaint Louverture fought first for the French, then for Spanish, then for Haiti. Then when Haiti finally won its independence, its new rulers put the former slaves right back to work on the plantations. I tried to make sense of the convoluted story through a series of posts on the Our Border website. Isabel Allende has done a beautiful job of painting a picture of life during these turbulent times in her book, Islands beneath the Sea.
Island Beneath the Sea is the story of life in Haiti before and during the revolution and later in New Orleans as seen by a handful of different characters. The beauty of the story is how each of the different narrators shows how they view the world and what happens: the slave girl who stays with her master even though he repeatedly raped her because it is best for her daughter; the plantation owner who finds ways to justify owning and even beating slaves even though he knows it is wrong; a doctor who is outspoken against slaves but unwilling to admit that his mistress is colored. I was fascinated watching how each character saw and related to the outbreak and spread of the revolution.
My interest was in what happened in Haiti. I was disappointed when the characters all moved to New Orleans. The book kept me interested, but I was sorry that they never returned to Haiti.
Island Beneath the Sea is a great addition to the fictional narrative of Haiti’s history along with Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones.