Monday, January 26, 2009

Diversity Book Review: Saving the World

I was drawn to this book, written by Julia Alvarez, when I read the blurb on the back cover.

While Alma Huebner 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 Gomez. As Alma digs deeper into Isabel's life, she finds her own power to commit an act as life-changing as Isabel's.

I was intrigued by the author's descriptions of the orphan boys and their long ocean voyage, as well as the story of Isabel, who accompanied and mothered them all. I suppose I made a personal connection with this character; I could relate to her enormous sense of responsibility and concern. It was also interesting to gain some insight into medical and health practices of that era and recognize the strides that have been made since.

In "Saving the World", Alma is supposed to be writing a book, but becomes depressed, cynical, and disinterested in her craft, and her life. She is pulled in by the Isabel and vaccine story while she researches it, and seems to see herself in Isabel. Alma then makes an aggressive, uncharacteristic gesture later in the story. Is she inspired by Isabel? Or has she finally found herself?

There is supposed to be some sort of parallel between the Alma and Isabel characters, but it seems somewhat forced. While I enjoyed the Isabel in the 1800s side of the story, I was not all that in to Alma. Her character did not feel developed enough and I had a hard time following her.

Julia Alvarez is Dominican. She was born in the U.S., returned to DR with her parents when she was three months old, then came back to New York City when she was ten. Her book How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is one of my all-time favorite Latina novels.


Ali said...

So, Alma is writing a book about Isabel, and the book is divided between Alma's story and Isabel's? Sounds like an interesting premise but it can be hard as a reader to stay equally involved in two disparate storylines.

Dree said...

I just started reading How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents last night. I picked it up at a flea market a few months ago because I thought it looked like a good read. I'm only two chapters in, but I like it so far. Great coincidence to read about the author in your post today :)

Jan Mader said...

Hi! I'm a children's writer and fairly new to blogging.

Your blog caught my eye for two reasons. First of all, you're a teacher.

Secondly, you're creative!

I designed my blog for teachers, parents, and writers in general. I'd love to have you come visit!