three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-SavingTheWorldMiddle-aged novelist Alma Heubner has a bad case of writer’s block. As her publisher awaits her latest family saga and her husband Richard leaves Vermont for humanitarian work in the Dominican Republic, Alma becomes immersed in the story of Isabel Sendales y Gómez and Dr. Francisco Balmis. In 1803 the two idealists enlisted a score of orphan boys to carry the smallpox vaccine across the Atlantic in hopes of halting an epidemic in Central America. The tale unfolds as a novel within the novel, with Alma drawing strength from her historical subject as she faces the daunting challenges inherent in the book’s title.
Algonquin Books. 384 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 156512510X

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Alvarez’s heroines encounter corruption and must grapple with disappointment and an ongoing undercurrent of pain. … This latest work reflects Alvarez’s creative agility, political insight, and spiritual depth, and should add to her already impressive reputation." Rosemary E. Jones

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In her latest work, the message seems to be that not everyone can embark on a grand mission to save the world. … And sometimes it’s all about surviving the dangerous and painful crossings of life and moving on." Georgia Pabst

Baltimore Sun 3 of 5 Stars
"Perhaps because plot has taken the driver’s seat with this book, as opposed to language or deep character development, Saving the World is not a depressing book to read. One still can find, Alma discovers, salvation in one’s work." Beth Kephart

San Diego Union-Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Many of the reasons to read Alvarez are here: strong, delightful female friendships, razor-like observations of their interaction with men. But there’s something pure and wild to Alvarez’s writing, so clear in her earlier books, that doesn’t take well to muddied waters." Laurel Maury

NY Times Book Review 1.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s difficult to write interesting fiction about someone struggling with the writing process, and it’s practically impossible when the author herself has created such tired characters. … [B]eneath the patina of seriousness, she has given us a mediocre melodrama, a novel lost at sea." Hillary Frey

Critical Summary

A warm, if not quite glowing, reception greets Julia Alvarez’s fifth novel. Moving away from her accomplished family sagas like In the Time of the Butterflies and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Alvarez takes up the humanitarian mantle to explore the enduring chasm between the first and third worlds. Critics love her characters, particularly the spirited Isabel, and they respect the novel’s ambition, even if some believe she hasn’t quite pulled it off. The warmth of her vision provides the necessary suspension to bridge the occasional gaps in this complex but fascinating story.