Saving the World

Saving the World

by Julia Alvarez


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781565125582
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 04/27/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 651,587
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.19(h) x 1.13(d)

About the Author

Julia Alvarez left the Dominican Republic for the United States in 1960 at the age of ten. She is the author of six novels, three books of nonfiction, three collections of poetry, and eleven books for children and young adults. 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." In 2013, President Obama awarded her a National Medal of Arts. Alvarez has taught and mentored writers in schools and communities across America, most recently as a writer-in-residence at Middlebury College, until her retirement in 2016. For many years, she and her husband, Bill Eichner, ran Finca Fundación Alta Gracia, an organic coffee farm-literacy arts center they established in her Dominican homeland. She is a co-founder and convener of Border of Lights, a collective of activists committed to promoting peace and solidarity between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. In 2009, In the Time of the Butterflies was selected by the National Endowment for the Arts for its national Big Read program.


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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Saving the World 2.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Sonfollower More than 1 year ago
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.
mandi1082 More than 1 year ago
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.
BillPilgrim on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a quick read and I found it rather enjoyable. I did not like the way the author killed off the husband. At the beginning, you can see that the marriage is in trouble, and expect them to separate, but his death is too neat for me. Also, the copy of the book I read had a picture of a bed on the cover, and this did not make any sense to me, or to my friend who read it at the same time I did.
claudiabowman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rather disappointing. The passages about the smallpox expedition were fun to read. The rest was rather boring, despite its melodrama.
gkluit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a disappointment this book was! It started out as a good read. I also had good hopes, because I have read several other books by the author and liked them. This one however doesn't match the others.
bhowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. This is literature, not just an amazing compelling read. Julia Alvarez is truly an American treasure. I could not put this book down and read it over a period of 2-3 days. It is partly historical fiction. The book moves back and forth between two remarkable women, one a present day American Hispanic writer, and the other a Spanish woman who in 1803 travels from Spain to the Americas with Francisco Balmis to vaccinate the populations of Spain's American colonies against smallpox. The historical Isabel selected 22 orphan boys from Spain to be the carriers of the cowpox virus so that vaccine could be made continuously. She is brought to take care of the boys on the 2 year expedition. The Latina novelist Alma, finds herself obsessed with Isabel's story, but faces a similar adventure in her own life which takes her to the Dominican Republic. The two women in the book face the dilemma of plagues (in the case of Isabel, small pox, in the case of Alma, Aids), poverty, politics and altruism. Do the ends justify the means? Can poor people be used for the greater good even if their lives and health are endangered in the process? The use of the orphans in 1803 to prevent smallpox and the use of poor people in the third world to test an Aids vaccine raise similar dilemma's dilemmas in the lives of these two women. The book is written with great compassion and insight. Now I must read "In the name of Salome" which has been sitting on my to read shelf for some time.
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