Archive for the ‘Julia Alvarez’ Category

Saving the World

June 4, 2008


OK, I lied when I wrote that I would not have finished Saving the World had I not been in the middle of nowhere with nothing else to do.  I always finish books, unless they are incredibly outrageously horrible.  I can’t remember the last time I started a book and couldn’t finish it.  There was wire damage on my train line yesterday evening, so it took me an hour and half to get home.  I sat on a train that was going nowhere, and thought about Saving the World.


This novel has a parallel story line.  There is Alma, a Dominican author with writer’s block and depression living in Vermont with her husband who works for an international aide agency trying to safe the world from poverty.  And there is Isabel, a character from the early 1800’s, who works in a boy’s orphanage in Spain.  A doctor from Spain wants to go on an expedition around the world spreading the smallpox vaccine.  Only problem is he needs human carriers for the vaccine.  He asks Isabel if she and 22 boys from her orphanage, who will act as live vaccine carriers, will come on his expedition to save the world from smallpox. 


Compared to Isabel, Alma’s problems seemed trivial and unimportant, making her character seem uninteresting and dull.  Alma is a modern woman, she is a successful author and has everything in terms of material comforts, and yet she suffers from depression.  Her husband is leaving for 3 months to build a green center in her home country of the Dominican Republic.  She chooses to stay at home to work through her writer’s block.  Isabel faces an ocean-going journey around the globe and is responsible for the health and well-being of 22 orphan boys serving as live vaccine carriers trying to safe the world from smallpox.  What an important mission when compared to Alma.  What is Alma trying to do to save the world?  Nothing, she is at home while her husband saves the world.


Maybe this is what Alvarez wants her readers to realize; that one person cannot save the world by themselves.  Even though she stays home, Alma provides support for her husband during his dangerous mission.  And even though Isabel is responsible for the health and safety of the boys and the vaccine they are carrying, she is one part of a large mission from Spain set out to spread the vaccine.  With her are a team of doctors and nurses, and as they travel around South America, they are only successful when they are working together.  How can one person save the entire world by themselves?  They cannot. Isabel’s team couldn’t administer the vaccine when their director offended the host country’s leaders.  Alma’s husband can’t save the Dominican Republic village from poverty because he doesn’t fully understand the roots of this poverty. Progress is only possible with collaboration.


There is phrase that Alvarez uses in the beginning of the novel, I don’t have the book in front of me so I cannot write the exact quote but it goes something like this: Our lives don’t belong to us, but to those who love us.  Some people like to think of themselves as independent, free spirits, not belonging to anyone, not tied down to the system, just going out and selflessly trying to save the world.  Alvarez reminds us that this is an illusion.  We are all living on the same planet together, so it’s up to all of us, not just the chosen few, to save it. 




PS – Go Obama!

Things That Make Me Happy

May 30, 2008

Lately I’ve been stressed and worried about everything, for no apparent reason.  Here are things I’m focusing on that make me happy:

  1. The 3rd season of Weeds is coming out on June 3rd.  Best show in the history of TV.  I have been waiting for what seems like years to finally see the 3rd season.
  2. The World Science Festival is this weekend.  I won’t be able to attend any of the presentations, but it makes me happy knowing that it is happening.  If I could, I would attend “Future Cities: Sustainable Solutions, Radical Designs“, “What it Means to Be Human“, “Faith & Science” and “The Sixth Extinction
  3. Listening to a wonderful conversation called “How America Can Take the Lead in Science and Technology” on WNYC yesterday morning
  4.  My BFF lets Manny and I sleep over her place whenever we want, no questions asked
  5. Seeing my ex-coworker and fellow science geek friend this weekend before she leaves me for grad school in Michigan
  6. The South by Southwest music player, perfect for doing mindless data entry at work(Click on “SXSW Player” on the lower left corner for listening enjoyment)

Oh yeah, this is a book blog.  I Finished A Gift from the Sea last week.  It was actually a really thoughtful, well written book.  Nothing too life changing, but it probably was really radical when it was first published in 1955.  The book was basically about how women need to balance out their lives and the needs of people who depend on them by finding solitude – time for themselves.  I can relate because I start to loose my mind a little if I don’t have some alone time.  A nice, peaceful, meditative read. 

Then I finished Saving the World, my first Julia Alvarez book.  It was just OK.  I think the main reason I finished it was because I was at my uncle’s house in the mountains with nothing else to do.  But that’s for another blog post, because this one is about happy things.