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Saving the World (Shannon Ravenel Books) Paperback – Bargain Price, April 27, 2007
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Intrusion: A Novel
A loving couple, grieving the loss of their son, finds their marriage in free fall when a beautiful, long-lost acquaintance inserts herself into their lives. Learn More
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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.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
What a fabulous surprise. "Saving the World" is not without flaws, but it is a marvelous read, completely satisfying and highly recommended.
There's a parallel story structure, one modern, one historical. In this case the historical one is the most compelling. Isabel is the director of a Spanish orphanage, who is approached by Dr. Francisco Balmis, who asks her to help him carry smallpox vaccine to the new world. This will be done by vaccinating one boy, then transferring the live vaccine from one boy to the next until they reach their destination and begin a vaccination program. Moved by Dr. Balmis' drive, Isabel agrees. She also agrees because she lost her family in the smallpox epidemic that left her disfigured.
And then you have Alma, who is supposed to be working on a Dominican family saga novel but who instead is spending her time reading about Isabel. Her husband Richard is going to the Dominican Republic to work on an environmental project while she remains at home in Vermont. That's the plan, anyway, but before the novel's end Alma will also cross the waters to try to rescue the mission of a visionary man.
Isabel's fantastic, little-known story is the more gripping. Crammed on tiny ships with rowdy little boys, touchy adult men, and bouts of seasickness, she keeps her eyes on the prize and helps the others focus in that direction as well.Read more ›
On the other hand, the real-life story of Isabel was gripping. After barely surviving but losing her entire family to smallpox, Isabel takes the job of running an orphanage. Scarred for life, there is no other option left to her. Then she is approached by Don Francisco with a remarkable proposal--take any boy who has never been exposed to smallpox and begin a journey to the new world. The boys would be vaccinated in sequence, in the hopes of keeping the virus alive during the long journey--at the time there was no way to store and transmit the vaccine other than by live carriers. Isabel's deeply buried spirit grabs the chance to leave her shut-in existence. This part of the book is based on history, and the mission saved thousands of lives.
I couldn't help but find Alma's troubles trivial compared to Isabel's dramatic story.Read more ›
However, I had to force myself to finish this one. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Isabel but each time one of her chapters would end, I'd suffer through another one about Alma. I'd put down the book for days on end and have to make myself pick it up again.
I'd love to see Alvarez try again and write a story about the Spanish Royal Philanthropic Expedition with nothing else to distract from it.
If you're interested in Julia Alvarez, try "In the Time of Butterflies" or "Garcia Girls" instead. Skip this one.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Good story, interesting the way she weaves the two stories together. I'm a big fan of Julia Alvarez; this isn't among my favorites, but it's a good read.Published 16 months ago by Jennifer A Lopez
For me this book really dragged the first half...almost gave up. The last half improved with more action and quicker pace. Read morePublished 17 months ago by suzyq
two stories in one - should have stuck to the story of curing smallpox years ago and left out the modern story - too contrivedPublished 21 months 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 on July 16, 2014 by Susan Fisher
Interesting layering of story lines. Juxtaposition of two stories centuries apart & how each women survived . Would recommend this book.Published on May 23, 2014 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 on January 9, 2014 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 on October 29, 2013 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 on July 1, 2013 by twikkione