Rebecca's Reviews > Saving the World

Saving the World by Julia Alvarez
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May 25, 09


This belongs that hit or miss category of novel that attempts to connect a contemporary story rooted in the modern woes of a writer/journalist with the subject of her historical research. The novel becomes the story of two women from vastly different circumstances and eras whose stories begin to merge. The great risk in writing a novel with distinct story lines is that one will be far more compelling than the other. Such is the case with Saving the World. The story involving an expedition of twenty-two orphans boys and their guardian, Isabel Sendales y Gomez, on 19th century quest to rid of the world of small pox, is a fascinating one. Isabel is a complex and courageous woman and the circumstances surrounding her make for a compelling plot line. By contrast, the story of Alma Huebner, a novelist pulled into Isabel's story amidst mid-life crisis and writer's block, is far less riveting. Where things really go awry, as they do so often in these narrative duets, is when the author attempts to, either through plot or theme, intersect the lives of the lead protagonists. What was believable becomes silly coincidence. Plot twists feel forced into shape, leaving the reader to divest themselves of any connection they might have once felt for the modern characters.
Alvarez is a skilled writer who I think attempted to do too much with this story. She didn't seem to trust in the original inspiration for the story (a footnote on the Royal Smallpox Expedition that had been turned away from the Dominican Republic) to carry the novel. Not every novelist can take on historical fiction in a compelling way. Alvarez is more than up to the task.
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