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SAVING THE WORLD.

Alvarez, Julia.

ISBN 10: 156512510X / ISBN 13: 9781565125100
Published by Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, (2006.) dj, 2006
Hardcover
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About this Item

SIGNED hardcover first edition - First printing. A novel which goes back and forth between two centuries - from the fight against AIDS in the modern Dominican Republic to the 1803 smallpox expedition of Francisco Xavier Balmis. INSCRIBED on the title page "for Mary" with a drawing of a heart and dated in the year of publication. 368 pp. Very near fine in a like dustjacket. Bookseller Inventory # 64330

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Bibliographic Details

Title: SAVING THE WORLD.

Publisher: Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, (2006.) dj

Publication Date: 2006

Binding: Hardcover

Dust Jacket Condition: Dust Jacket Included

Signed: Signed by Author(s)

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title

Synopsis:

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.

Review:

Julia Alvarez is the author of five works of fiction, among them In the Time of the Butterflies and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, books for children, essays, and poetry. Saving the World is an unfocused attempt to make a statement about the haves and the have-nots and the people who try to improve the lot of those who have never had a real chance in life: those people who try to save the world. Unfortunately, it does not bridge the chasm between authentic high-mindedness and sentimental twaddle.

There are two stories intertwined in the novel: one of Alma, a self-centered depressive author and the other of Isabel, a no-centered Spanish rectoress who, in 1803, with her 23 orphan boys, joins Dr. Balmis on a ship bound for the new world destined to save the world from smallpox. The boys are to be carriers; each of them vaccinated with cowpox and then, when the vesicles fill with fluid, it will be harvested to vaccinate others. This part is, basically, a true story.

Alma has a contract to write a book, gets stuck, and becomes enamored of Isabel's story instead. She starts to write, and her husband, Richard, is called away on a project to the Dominican Republic, Alma's native country, to establish a "green" zone. Another world-saving project in theory, it turns out not to be as advertised. Alma sends him off alone, telling him that she is going to work on the book--some book, anyway--and then wool-gathers about why. Isabel constantly asks herself if she has done the right thing by exposing the boys to the rigors of sea travel, the dangers of ailments other than smallpox, and will she ever have a husband and babies of her own? These two women are portrayed as having remarkably little self-knowledge, despite their concentration on taking their own emotional temperature hourly.

A red-herring sub-plot is that Alma's close neighbor and "good friend," whom she seldom sees until she finds out she's dying, has a crazy son who has a crazy wife. They come to visit as Richard is leaving. Their threats to Alma and to the world at large are described by the two loonies as "ethical terrorism." This nonsense gains Alma's sympathy and she ends up protecting and defending them, spouting poetic aphorisms as reasons. The other loose cannon in the tale is Tera, Alma's one-dimensional firebrand friend who is saving the world from everything you can mention, according to her own lights. She is tedious in her extremism, and especially annoying to Alma when Alma needs attention, which is all the time.

All manner of dreadful things take place in this truly messy book. Alma and Isabel cry a lot, everyone gets to act out and then we go around again. Unfortunately, this story trivializes the world-saving work of the Spanish Royal Philanthropic Expedition, which was an around-the-world voyage of the smallpox vaccine and really did prevent outbreaks in the New World. Now that is a fascinating story. --Valerie Ryan

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