Podcast

Isabel Allende’s ISLAND BENEATH THE SEA

Dr. Devra Davis
Isabel Allende

Author Isabel Allende talks about her new novel, ISLAND BENEATH THE SEA. It tells the story of a remarkable woman, the slave Tété, during the Haitian revolution against French rule. And we talk with Dr. Derva Davis about her book THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE WAR ON CANCER. It’s about environmental causes of cancer and industry and government cover-ups of the issue. A presidential panel has just come out with a new report about it.

When an earthquake hit Haiti earlier this year, evangelist Pat Robertson laid the blame at the feet of the Haitian people, implying that, in overthrowing their French colonial slave masters in the 18th century, their forebears had made a pact with the devil — and the earthquake was God’s revenge. Robertson’s wacko commentary was a reminder of how deep and long lasting is the rage of the rulers against those who dare to free themselves from it. Haiti’s revolution still remains unique in world history as the only successful slave rebellion.

Now Isabel Allende has written a sweeping historical novel, ISLAND BENEATH THE SEA, that brings that time in Haiti’s history alive for the reader.

 It tells the story of the slave Tété, a woman born into slavery in the colony of Saint-Domingue.  Rich in historical detail, ISLAND BENEATH THE SEA explores several themes:  the toll slavery takes on both the oppressed and the oppressor, the melding of different cultures in the cauldron of colonialism and revolution, and the deep personal relationships that persist in spite of the rigid social barriers of slave society.

Isabel Allende is one of the best-known women writers in the Americas and the author of the 18 books, including THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS and INÉS OF MY SOUL.

On May 6, a scientific panel on cancer convened by President Obama released a report finding that Americans are facing “grievous harm” from chemicals in the air, food and water. Charging that the chemicals largely gone unregulated and ignored, it said the nation needs to do a better job in reducing the risk of cancer to the public. Typically, only 5% of cancers are linked to environmental exposure. But the report said this grossly underestimates the true rate — a claim that’s brought howls of protest from groups representing industry.

The panel says the risk to all Americans is understated because U.S. policy fails to take into account the cumulative effect of exposure to many different harmful chemicals in the environment and that infants, children and teens are especially vulnerable. Finally, it faulted US regulations for reacting to harm that already has been done rather than trying to prevent the entry of harmful chemicals into the environment in the first place.

I spoke about all these issues with my next guest, Dr. Devra Davis, back in 2008, when she came out with her book THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE WAR ON CANCER.  She says 95% of all cancers are caused by our environment – and that powerful special interests have colluded with government and watchdog organizations like the American Cancer Society (or ACS) to sow doubt on longstanding research proving that. The ACS disputes the Presidential cancer panel’s claim that environmental causes of cancer had been underestimated.

Dr. Davis is director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh, where she also teaches epidemiology.

Educational Resource: With a mfa degree you can get the background you need to write authoritatively about these historical periods.

Other Useful Links Mentioned in the Show:

Toxics Use Reduction Institute

Collaborative on Health and Environment

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About Francesca Rheannon

Francesca Rheannon is an award-winning independent radio producer. In addition to hosting Writer's Voice, she's a freelance reporter for National Public Radio and its affiliates. Recipient of the prestigious Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award for reporting on substance abuse issues for her news series, VOICES OF HIV, produced for 88.5 WFCR public radio in western Massachusetts. She is also finishing a book on Provence (PROVINCE OF THE HEART) and working on a memoir of her father, THE ARGONAUTS.

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