Alvarez's resplendent new novel takes us into the worlds of two women swept up in campaigns against the scourges of their day. Alma Huebner, a Latin American novelist transplanted to the United States, is writing another of her bestselling family sagas. Her husband works for a humanitarian organization dedicated to health and prosperity in developing countries. He wants her to go with him, but she demurs. She must finish her newest novel.
In truth, Alma is sidetracked by the story of a much earlier idealist, Francisco Xavier Balmis, who in 1803 undertook to vaccinate the populations of Spains American colonies against smallpox. To do this, he needed living "carriers" of the vaccine. Enter Isabel Sendales y Gómez, the rectoress of La Casa de Expositós. Isabel selects twenty-two orphan boys to be the carriers and joins them on the voyage. Her bravery inspires a very different novel from Alma.
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"In this cleverly structured and seductive page-turner, Alvarez uses romance and suspense to leaven probing inquiries into plagues, poverty, and politics; altruism and self-aggrandizement ....." - Booklist.
"..her effort to find resonating similarities between the intertwined plots sometimes feels contrived..." - PW.
"... an unfocused attempt to make a statement about the haves and the have-nots .. Unfortunately, it does not bridge the chasm between authentic high-mindedness and sentimental twaddle." - Amazon.
"Alvarez's generosity of vision compensates for the not-altogether-convincing central conceit of her sixth novel." - Kirkus.
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