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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
two stories in one - should have stuck to the story of curing smallpox years ago and left out the modern story - too contrivedPublished 1 month ago by E. George
Was not a fan of this book. The primary characters were not that not interesting or compelling that you cared about them. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Susan Fisher
Interesting layering of story lines. Juxtaposition of two stories centuries apart & how each women survived . Would recommend this book.Published 7 months ago by Rebecca Walsh
When you read this book, you think it is real history - and it certainly has an aspect of reality behind it. The world really was "saved" in this way. Read morePublished 11 months ago by caroline hastreiter
Two stories for the price of one. Very intrigued by the story of Isabel. Well written though at places the main story seemed like it was getting bogged down in side storiesPublished 13 months ago by Barbara Wert
I just like this book, it was a good read, it read quickly and was interesting since I don't remember ever reading from this author before.Published 17 months ago by twikkione
Saving the World is not one of Julia Alvarez's best works. The story of the expedition to eradicate the world of smallpox would have been very interesting and stood alone in the... Read morePublished 19 months ago by Roxann Lindsay
I had never thought about it before - that before refrigeration, there were many challenges for very important things like vaccines! Read morePublished on July 7, 2012 by Kathryn C. Hogan
The concept of bringing together smallpox and HIV in an historical crucible intrigued me, and I thought I would find the story about using young boys to perpetuate the smallpox... Read morePublished on March 25, 2011 by R. Klein