Saving the World by Julia Alvarez

No critic rating

Waiting for minimum critic reviews

See 5 Critic Reviews



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.

About Julia Alvarez

See more books from this 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, two books of nonfiction, three collections of poetry, and eight books for children and young adults. Her work has garnered wide recognition, including a Latina Leader Award in Literature in 2007 from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the 2002 Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, the2000 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." A writer-in-residence at Middlebury College, Alvarez and her husband, Bill Eichner, established Alta Gracia, an organic coffee farm-literacy arts center, in her homeland, the Dominican Republic.
Published April 27, 2007 by A Shannon Ravenel Book. 394 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Saving the World

Kirkus Reviews

See more reviews from this publication

Keep the faith: That simple message inspires a novelist when she and her husband are taken hostage.

May 20 2010 | Read Full Review of Saving the World

The New York Times

See more reviews from this publication

Julia Alvarez's novel, about aid workers in two centuries, explores the compromises people make in the name of altruism.

Apr 23 2006 | Read Full Review of Saving the World

Historical Novel Society

Doña Isabel is asked to help a doctor, Don Francisco Xavier Balmis, director of the King’s Expedition, use her orphan boys to carry the smallpox vaccine to the New World, where an epidemic is raging.

| Read Full Review of Saving the World

Bookmarks Magazine

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.

Aug 29 2007 | Read Full Review of Saving the World


As Alvarez herself puts it: “The seed of my new novel sprouted in a footnote about an 1803 expedition to save the world with the smallpox vaccine.

Apr 27 2006 | Read Full Review of Saving the World

Reader Rating for Saving the World

An aggregated and normalized score based on 44 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes

Rate this book!

Add Review