Keeping with this tradition, Isabel Allende's grandfather seems to not only have become Esteban Trueba in The House of the Spirits, but to have also become the character Toulouse Valmorain in Island Beneath the Sea. Both Trueba (in Chile) and Valmorain (in Santo Domingo) are large land-owners who inherited their property that was neglected by the generation before them. The land was worked by slaves (indigenous peons in Chiles and African slaves in Santo Domingo). They both considered it acceptable behavior to rape girl slaves when they reached puberty and fathered a number of illegitimate mixed-race children. They both considered themselves to be model plantation or hacienda owners, because they treated their slaves better than their neighboring land barons treated their slaves. Both characters reveal love and tenderness to legitimate child descendents.
Valmorain in Island Beneath the Sea fascinated me. It was intriguing to be able to peer inside the mind of this sugar plantation slave owner — to see his self-justification. Indeed, a whole society supported his belief system that what he was doing was good, just and even divine. It helps me to understand what might be going on in the minds of people in positions of power in any age, anywhere.
The title, Island Beneath the Sea, refers to an Afro-Caribbean belief in a paradisiacal afterworld. The novel also reveals the power-structure's self-serving religious beliefs that equality is to be found only in heaven. But the protagonist, Zarité, is convinced that equality can be achieved in the here and the now. Even through the most daunting of trials she holds on to this dream, this conviction of her heart.
In an interview, Allende said that she writes to entertain the reader. I find meaning deeper than mere entertainment in Allende's work. Like Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda has said — reading great literature makes it possible to learn from the lives of many different people, and not just from our own limited direct experience. I read novels seeking those life lessons. In Allende's work I find not only entertainment, but also great wisdom. I believe that Isabel Allende is a living treasure of humanity.
After finishing reading The Island Beneath the Sea I felt grounded, confident and filled with hope for the future.