Isabel Allende was born in Peru and raised in Chile. Her her 2009 novel Island Beneath The Sea, translated from its original Spanish, is the story of the evolution of slavery  in Saint-Dominque,  modern-day Haiti.  Allende,  like James Michener, establishes characters  so compelling that the reader becomes associated with every aspect of their lives.  Like Michener’s book Caribbean , Island Beneath The Sea begins with the saga of the annihilation by the Spaniards of the island’s Arawak Indians followed by the establishment of slavery as the economic  driver of the sugar industry throughout the Antilles.


The devastation and human suffering caused by the Spanish  is compounded when the French replace Spanish rule by establishing a permanent colony on Saint-Dominque.  The story of the great sugar plantations and the abhorrent treatment of the slaves imported from Africa is told through the life of a slave girl, Zarite’,  born of an African mother and a white sailor, neither of whom she never knew.

Island Beneath the Sea is a generational saga of the children of mixed black and white blood, that was so prevalent in plantation life.  Young girls became the forced lovers of the plantation masters and overseers with offspring by the hundreds bought and sold in the cycle of human bondage.  The story of Zarite’s survival is riveting , bringing to the reader an understanding of the plantation slave culture, later imported to the American south. In broad terms, I would classify Island Beneath the Sea as a historical novel.

In the early 1800s with the great slave revolts devastating the island’s plantations, the slave culture of the Caribbean migrated to America.  The economic driver expanded to include cotton and rice. The novel captures reality as Zarite, having been transported by circumstance from Saint Dominque ( Haiti)  to New Orleans  discovers that her emancipation and freedom, even in America, is a glass only half full, as an entire sub culture of mixed race ethnicity evolves and plantation life for the slave does not change.

Our contemporary discourse regarding slavery, heightened by the release of the movie Lincoln, makes this novel even more timely. Throughout its pages lies the heritage of the greatest issue faced by American’s transcending the 19th and 20th centuries.

Isabel Allende is the author of nine novels including Ines of My Soul, Daughter of Fortune and Portrait in Sepia., all of which were New York Times best sellers.  I am thankful for the introduction to Allende by my daughter much in the same way as I was grateful to a good friend for recommending Anya Seton’s Winthrop Women.  You too will not be disappointed!


John Gray is among Britain’s  ” former ” conservative  thinkers who had major influence on Margaret Thatcher during her tenure as British Prime Minister.


Gray, a long-standing  unfettered free enterprise advocate , had an epiphany regarding his economic views and in 1998 published False Dawn, a highly academic discussion and prediction as to why a laissez-faire global economic system was unworkable and forecast the economic calamity that fell upon the U.S. and the world in 2008. Gray’s thesis in  False Dawn is that  the American-style unregulated free market system was the major contributor leading up to the world economic implosion of 2008!

False Dawn is a heavy reading assignment!  However, the perspective Gray brings to the discussion of  government’s role in the free enterprise system is both provocative and startling.  Of particular note is his reasoned analysis of why he now conversely believes that only government involvement in the framework of free-enterprise can prevent the income disparity that exists in both the U.S. and  international economic system.  Gray makes the case that income disparity, now seen in largely un-regulated world-wide free-enterprise economies, has led to economic perdition.  He  warns of the danger of the IMF for trying to impose the US economic model on the world.

So what is the take-away?  Has Gray gone from a Thatcher conservative to socialist?  I think not, but he is a strong advocate for the necessity of some government role in fostering growth and regulating free enterprise. The growth side of the Gray proposition comes from his advocacy of government  investment in infrastructure, scientific research and new technologies, all of which is  part of the contemporary economic and political dialogue!

Ironically, as I was finishing False Dawn  the January 12, 2012 issue of The Economist arrived with a cover story The Great Innovation Debate. While the article does not focus upon income disparity, it makes a strong case for government spending on infrastructure and basic research. As might be expected, the government investment advocacy does not come without The Economist warning of too much regulation “getting in the way of the 21st century’s innovative juices.” Many sides to a complex issue.

False Dawn is a great companion read to those fans of Tom Friedman, in particular Hot-Flat and Crowded and Robert Wright’s Non Zero. In all three cases you may wish to take notes!


Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is all over every best seller list.


Never having read Flynn before I said why not and what a surprise! Forget the substance for the moment, I will get to that but the format, diary like, allows the reader to quickly churn through this fast paced thriller.  No need to reference backward as each chapter begins with its own initiative, clues, blind sides and revelations to keep the reader guessing.  Without this format you may need MapQuest!

A troubled marriage, sinister plot, duplicity and murder travel this fast paced highway.  Yes, you may get lost before finding your way and I doubt very much you will predict the ending!  Flynn weaves social issues into the story including aging parents, Alzheimer’s, Colombo like cops and a female TV crime show host ever so anxious for the next accused man to vilify.  One thing is for sure, Flynn leaves few local folks in Carthage Missouri with little if any dignity!

So the perfect New York City romance ends in a thriller along the banks of the Mississippi! Can you ever go home again?   Just read this bit of copy to whet your appetite and if you are lucky enough to be heading to a warm weather beach this winter, bring along Gone Girl.

Nick Dunne ( husband) ‘”I am finally a match for Amy ( protagonist ). I was a callow boy, and then a man good and bad. Now at last I am the hero. I am the one to root for in the never ending war story of our marriage.  We are one long fighting climax.

Also by Gillian Flynn Dark Places, Sharp Objects.