The Washington Post
Saving the Worldby Julia Alvarez
Latina novelist Alma Huebner is suffering from writer's block and is years past the completion date for yet another of her bestselling family sagas. Her husband, Richard, works for a humanitarian organization dedicated to the health and prosperity of developing countries and wants her help on an extended AIDS assignment in the Dominican Republic. But Alma begs off
Latina novelist Alma Huebner is suffering from writer's block and is years past the completion date for yet another of her bestselling family sagas. Her husband, Richard, works for a humanitarian organization dedicated to the health and prosperity of developing countries and wants her help on an extended AIDS assignment in the Dominican Republic. But Alma begs off joining him: the publisher is breathing down her neck. She promises to work hard and follow him a bit later.
The truth is that Alma is seriously sidetracked by a story she has stumbled across. It's the story of a much earlier medical do-gooder, Spaniard Francisco Xavier Balmis, who in 1803 undertook to vaccinate the populations of Spain's American colonies against smallpox. To do this, he required live "carriers" of the vaccine.
Of greater interest to Alma is Isabel Sendales y Gómez, director of La Casa de Expósitos, who was asked to select twenty-two orphan boys to be the vaccine carriers. She agreed with the stipulation that she would accompany the boys on the proposed two-year voyage. Her strength and courage inspire Alma, who finds herself becoming obsessed with the details of Isabel's adventures.
This resplendent novel-within-a-novel spins the disparate tales of two remarkable women, both of whom are swept along by machismo. In depicting their confrontation of the great scourges of their respective eras, Alvarez exposes the conflict between altruism and ambition.
The Washington Post
—The Washington Post Book World
the perennially popular Alvarez portrays two courageous and giving women, one based on a historical figure, the other a present-day writer not unlike Alvarez herself...In this cleverly structured and seductive page-turner, Alvarez uses romance and suspense to leaven probing inquiries into plagues, poverty, and politics; altruism and self-aggrandizement; good intentions gone wrong; and the way stories are told."—Booklist
Everyone in Alma Huebner's circle - her husband and best friend - is engaged in working to save the world, or at least make it a better place in their spheres of influence. Her best friend is a political activist. Her husband is employed by a conservationist organization.
While those around her are outwardly focused, Alma is turning 50 and looking inward.
A writer, she's constantly nagged by her publisher and agent, who prod her to try to finish, or even start, the promised saga she can't seem to get into.
Instead, Alma has become fascinated researching the 19th-century story of Francisco Xavier Balmis, a Spanish doctor who set out on an adventurous expedition to vaccinate those in the New World against the scourge of smallpox. To do this, he recruits 22 orphan boys to serve as live carriers of the smallpox virus. Their rectoress, Isabel Sendales y Gomez, agrees to go along on the voyage to fulfill her own need for adventure.
Meanwhile, Alma's husband, Richard, has agreed to take an assignment in the Dominican Republic, Alma's homeland, where he will work on establishing an eco-agricultural or green center run in conjunction with an AIDS clinic overseen by a pharmaceutical company.
"It's a chance to save those mountains and communities," he says. "A real chance to make a difference."
Instead of going along, Alma stays in Vermont to work on her book and look in on a dying neighbor.
A novel within a novel, the book tells the stories of two women, two centuries apart, committed to two men with missions designed to help the less fortunate in worlds far away - all of them on the journey of their lives.
It blends the themes of adventure, disease, travel, commitment, loneliness, desire, doubt, love, loss and survival.
The fast-paced stories are compelling and rich in detail. We travel with Isabel as she endures the dangerous ocean voyage and clings to her orphan charges. And we follow Alma through her modern-day life as she deals with the challenge, comfort and mystery that surround her, and her dying friend, although some of that plot gets a little far afield.
Two stories with two totally different endings are melded into a riveting tale by master storyteller Alvarez.
A novelist and poet, she has written other terrific tales, such as "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents," "In the Time of the Butterflies" and "Yo!"
In her latest work, the message seems to be that not everyone can embark on a grand mission to save the world. Even those who do face disappointment.
Yet everyone makes their own journey. And sometimes it's all about surviving the dangerous and painful crossings of life and moving on.—Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
-Denver Rocky Mountain News
—The Washington Post Book World
- Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.25(w) x 9.31(h) x 1.25(d)
Meet the Author
Julia Alvarez left the Dominican Republic for the United States in 1960 at the age of ten. A novelist, poet, and essayist, she is the author of nineteen books, including How the García Girls Lost Their Accents,In the Time of the Butterflies—a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read Selection—Yo!, Something to Declare, In the Name of Salome, Saving theWorld, A Wedding in Haiti, and The Woman I Kept to Myself. Her work has garnered wide recognition, including the 2013 National Medal of Arts, a Latina Leader Award in Literature in 2007 from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the 2002 Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, the 2000 Woman of the Year by Latina magazine, and inclusion in the New York Public Library’s 1996 program “The Hand of the Poet: Original Manuscripts by 100 Masters, from John Donne to Julia Alvarez.” A writer-in-residence at Middlebury College, Alvarez and her husband, Bill Eichner, established Alta Gracia, an organic coffee farm–literacy arts center, in her homeland, the Dominican Republic.
- Middlebury, Vermont
- Date of Birth:
- March 27, 1950
- Place of Birth:
- New York, New York
- B.A., Middlebury College, 1971; M.F.A., Syracuse University, 1975
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I had to force myself to finish this one. I generally enjoy a story within a story, particulary with a storyline based in historical fact, but not this time. I would have preferred a better, single story. I found the current-day protagonist unlikable, selfish and undeserved of her relationships. I never developed any real attachment to any of the characters.
I usually enjoy books by Julia Alvarez but this was not one of them. This is two stories in one and i wish that she would of just stuck to the story about Isabel which was a little bit more interesting not buy much then the first story. I had a hard time getting through the book and once I did start to enjoy it a little I was almost done with the book.