Monday, April 10, 2006

Saving the World by Julia Alvarez

Alvarez, an acclaimed author and teacher, grew up in the Dominican Republic, a setting she mines compellingly in her fiction, essays and poems. She has an impeccable grasp of Latin culture and history, and she brings them to life fully.

Readers unfamiliar with the times and places of the stories may lose their way occasionally amid the many historical and political details in this ambitious novel.

Nevertheless, "Saving the World" is a rich and satisfying work of fiction that bridges two worlds -- the one within that tries to define who we are, and the one beyond our grasp that will always pull us to defy our boundaries.

You can find the review here

In the complementary tale set in contemporary Vermont and the Caribbean, Alvarez further probes the roles of medicine, politics, devotion and the explosive mix of ambition and altruism. Unlike Isabel, Alma is plagued by angst and even anorexia, and overreacts to crank phone calls and encounters with her neighbor's unstable son. She finds herself turning to Isabel to calm herself. And when she must rush to Richard's side to try to rescue him from a local takeover of the clinic where he is being held hostage, she must deal with bungling bureaucrats and overzealous militia. "Make believe you're Isabel," she keeps reminding herself.

Paradoxically, she decides she must also try to help the misguided muchachos who see themselves as "ethical terrorists" and whom she sees as teenage boys who would have been satisfied with a pool table, and a training program that would have led to jobs, money, and a chance to be treated as human beings. In the end, like Isabel, she realizes "you cannot live entirely for your own time; you have to imagine a story bigger than your own story, than the sum of its parts."

As in her novel In the Name of Salome, also based on a historic Hispanic woman, Alvarez's heroines encounter corruption and must grapple with disappointment and an ongoing undercurrent of pain. And similar to In the Time of the Butterflies, her best-known novel about three sisters who gave their lives in the struggle against Trujillo, Alma's story builds to a gut-wrenching climax. In each she deals with women who dare to act beyond themselves to help save the world, or at least try.

"I have desperately to dream to go on living," Alma discovers. But she also realizes that she too is a carrier, "carrying this story which would surely die unless it took hold in a future life."

This latest work reflects Alvarez's creative agility, political insight and spiritual depth, and should add to her already impressive reputation.

You can find the review here

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