Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Remarkable...Saving the World
depicts the need to belong to something deeper and more enduring than ourselves."
—The Washington Post Book World
"This engrossing, expertly paced novel links two women, centuries apart, touched by battles against smallpox and AIDS. It's clear by story's end that the past informs the present and that altruism has its costs."--People People Magazine
"A gripping story of love, politics, greed and good intentions."—MSNBC.com MSNBC.com
"A writer adept at linking momentous past events with current realities, 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 Booklist
"Alvarez depicts her two heroines with insightful empathy and creates vivid supporting characters...The narrative culminates in a compelling scene in which greed and ineptitude trump idealism, dramatizing the question of whether the means are ever justified by the ends."—Publishers Weekly Publishers Weekly
“Alvarez’s descriptions of nature and character are both naturalistic and poetic, creating a psychological novel-within-a-novel that is intense and riveting.”—Library Journal Library Journal
"Saving the World
." It's a tall order and one that many aspire to in ways large and small. It's also the title and theme of Julia Alvarez's new book, an intriguing and engrossing novel.
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 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
"Alvarez adeptly connects the lives of the two women from different eras to tell a gripping story of love, politics, greed and good intentions."—MSNBC.com MSNBC.com
"Saving the World is a powerful novel-on a par with such major work as Philip Roth's American Pastoral (1997). Politically savvy, astutely written, smart, and rich in poetic imagery, this hybrid of a novel is nothing less than a work of art."—Burlington Free Press Burlington Free Press
"Saving the World is an ambitious and unsettling novel, told with estrogenic fervor, a dash of hope and a larger dose of despair."—Seattle Times Seattle Times
Alvarez "writes with authority in Saving the World. . . . Dedicated research and fine imagination . . . Alvarez [has] skillfully concocted a fascinating life story."—Boston Globe Boston Globe
"Suspense and suppressed romance lend Saving the World the tension of a page-turner."—Dallas Morning News Dallas Morning News
"An interesting glimpse of history and a chilling reminder that we are in the midst of contemporary plagues."—The Oregonian The Oregonian
"Provocative . . . shrewd, ambitious."—The Cleveland Plain Dealer The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Weaving pandemics from different eras is the compelling and timely plotline in Julia Alvarez's newest novel, 'Saving the World.' Two women living two centuries apart confront two incurable diseases -- smallpox and AIDS -- in the course of the narrative, which explores the interplay of plagues, poverty and politics. An 1803 sailing expedition from Spain to inoculate people in Central and South America against smallpox is based on historical fact."-USA Weekend USA Weekend
Alvarez's "newest book is an elegant novel in which the two stories - so far apart in years - nevertheless meld smoothly, due to her ability to masterly interweave their similar ethical, cultural and human issues." -Denver Rocky Mountain News Denver Rocky Mountain News
"This latest work [Saving the World] reflects Alvarez's creative agility, political insight and spiritual depth, and should add to her already impressive reputation."-Florida Sun-Sentinel Florida Sun-Sentinel
"Saving The World
depicts the need to belong to something greater and more enduring than ourselves, whether that something be a social commitment, a world-saving expedition or a book. Whether we respond to the troubling question of inequality from a religious perspective (it's not an accident that " Alma " is the Spanish word for "soul") or a secular one -- Alvarez's search for that answer is a remarkable examination of conscience."
—Washington Post The Washington Post
“Saving the World is wise and spellbinding as it ponders the difficulty of the human condition in any era, and the ways the actions and decisions of a few individuals can make things better or worse.”— Minneapolis Star Tribune Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Artfully braids together the stories of two women separated by 200 years. . . .Beautifully written."—Chicago Sun-Times Chicago Sun-Times
ALVAREZ’S resplendent new novel takes us into the worlds of two women swept up in campaigns against the scourges of their day. Alma Huebner, a Latin American novelist transplanted to the United States, is writing another of her bestselling family sagas. Her husband works for a humanitarian organization dedicated to health and prosperity in developing countries. He wants her to go with him, but she demurs. She must finish her newest novel.
In truth, Alma is sidetracked by the story of a much earlier idealist, Francisco Xavier Balmis, who in 1803 undertook to vaccinate the populations of Spain’s American colonies against smallpox. To do this, he needed living “carriers” of the vaccine. Enter Isabel Sendales y Gómez, the rectoress of La Casa de Expositós. Isabel selects twenty-two orphan boys to be the carriers and joins them on the voyage. Her bravery inspires a very different novel from Alma.
A brilliant novel-within-a-novel, Saving the World pits ambition against altruism—and, in the process, tells the radiant stories of two courageous women.
Alma, the narrator of Saving the World
, discovers a small historical footnote while doing research for a novel: In 1803, a Spanish doctor crossed the Atlantic with twenty-two orphan boysand#8212;live carriers of the smallpox vaccineand#8212;to inoculate the population of Spain's American colonies. Accompanying them on the two-year voyage was a mysterious woman, Isabel Sendales y Gandoacute;mez, the rectoress of the orphanage. Captivated by Isabe'and#8217;s courage, Alma decides to tell the grueling story of their journey.
Meanwhile, Alma's husband, working with an organization committed to eradicating AIDS in developing countries, travels to the Dominican Republic. When his life is threatened, it is Isabel's strength and resolve that arouse Alma's unexpectedly heroic action.
This novel within a novel presents the radiant stories of two women swept up in campaigns against the scourges of their day.
While Alma Huebert is researching a new novel, she finds her real story—and her salvation—in a little-known but staggering historical footnote: the Royal Expedition of the Vaccine. In 1803, Don Francisco Balmis embarked on a two-year sea voyage to rescue the New World from smallpox. Accompanying him were twenty-two orphan boys, acting as live carriers, and their guardian, Isabel Sendales y Gómez. As Alma digs deeper into Isabel's life, she finds her own power to commit an act as life-changing as Isabel's.
In Saving the World, Julia Alvarez, author of perennial bestsellers, including How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies, takes us into the worlds of "two women living two centuries apart [who] each face 'a crisis of the soul' when their fates are tied to idealistic men" (Publishers Weekly).
Alma is set on writing another of her bestselling family sagas, but when she discovers the story of 22 orphan boys who were selected in 1803 to act as RcarriersS of the smallpox vaccine in an attempt to vaccinate Spain's American colonies, Alma's newest novel develops into something very different.
About 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.