Where’s The Magic, Isabel? Reviewing Allende’s Recent Reviews

I haven’t read an Isabel Allende book in ages, but I noticed she had a new one coming out and as one of the most famous Latin American authors in the States, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at the reviews. For old time sakes, at least. What is obvious is that if you live by magical realism, you die by it. Every reviewer I came across was asking for some of the good stuff, that old magic that made House of Spirits famous. It is a little lazy to demand a writer keep writing in the same style. Again books from Latin American authors must fit some sort of mold and here it must be the exotic locals, war and love. At least the Times review mentioned Alejo Carpentier.

I wasn’t much impressed by the reviews. From the NY Times:

The resulting canvas contains no less than the revolutionary history of the world’s first black republic as Allende portrays the island’s various factions: republicans versus monarchists, blacks versus mulattoes, abolitionists versus planters, slaves versus masters. She revels in period detail: ostrich-feathered hats, high-waisted gowns, meals featuring suckling pigs with cherries. Her cast is equally vibrant: a quadroon courtesan and the French officer who marries her; Valmorain’s second wife, a controlling Louisiana Creole; Zarité’s rebel lover, who joins Toussaint L’Ouverture in the hills. But for all its entertaining sweep, the story lacks complex characterization and originality. And its style is traditional. Where, you wonder, are the headless men — or, in ­Allende’s case, headless women? Where is the magical realism?


Ultimately, however, Allende has traded innovative language and technique for a fundamentally straight­forward historical pageant. There is plenty of melodrama and coincidence in “Island Beneath the Sea,” but not much magic.

The review from the LA Times was a plot summary. At least you will know what happens in the book.

With this admirable novel, Allende cements her reputation as a writer of wide scope and amazing talent. Although very traditional in its unfolding — readers enamored by her use of magical realism will find little in this narrative — this historical novel does what one hopes a book of its ilk will do: transport readers to a new world, open up history and make it come alive, and cause readers to forget time passing in the world the author has so carefully and lovingly built.

2 thoughts on “Where’s The Magic, Isabel? Reviewing Allende’s Recent Reviews

  1. Of historical interest — You can see a clip of Toussaint’s last moments in prison from the award-winning new short film “The Last Days of Toussaint L’Ouverture” at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2468184/ This film is the basis for a new feature (not with Danny Glover) that is in development.

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