"The story of my life starts with the story of my country... ." Thus begins Julia Alvarez's epic fictional account of the real-life Salomé Ureña-the "Emily Dickinson of the Dominican Republic." Born in the 1850s, in a time of intense political repression and turmoil, Salomé's fervent patriotic poems turned her-at seventeen-into a national icon. In the Name of Salomé is equally the story of Salomé's daughter, Camila, who grows up in exile, in the shadow of her mother's legend. Shy and self-effacing, Camila's life is in stark contrast to Salomé's. While her mother dedicated her brief life to educating Dominican girls to serve their struggling new nation, Camila spent her career explaining the Spanish pluperfect to upper-class American girls. But when, at age sixty-six, Camila makes a decision to leave her comfortable life behind and join Castro's revolution in Cuba, she begins a journey to make peace with her past-and bring the lives of two remarkable women full circle.
Spanning more than a century, In the Name of Salomé proves Alvarez equally adept at capturing the sweep of history and the most intimate details of women's lives and hearts. It is Alvarez's richest and most inspiring novel to date.
It's 1960, and 65-year-old Camila Ureña decides to join the New World. Castro's new world, that is, which she has been following on the news with a heated excitement she hasn't felt for years. Forced into early retirement from her 20-year post as a Spanish teacher among the perky white girls of Vassar College, Camila faces a choice: whether to move to Florida and live down the block from her best friend or to fly over Florida and into Havana where her brothers live--and thereby land in a place of upheaval and hungry ghosts. The hungriest ghost of all is Camila's mother, Salomé Ureña, whose poems became inspirational anthems for a short-lived revolution in the late-19th-century Dominican Republic.
Based in fact, In the Name of Salomé alternates between Camila's story and her mother's. Camila's chapters are written in the third person, Salomé's in the first. By calling Camila "she," Alvarez alienates her within the text--as if in her attic at Vassar she is floating outside herself in an America that does not belong to her. In contrast, Salomé's chapters vibrate with life and tears and melodrama. Through the alternating voices, which Alvarez handles masterfully, the reader comes to grasp Camila's longing for the color and music of her mother's lost world--how the meek daughter wishes "she" could become the "I" of her mother's revolutionary and passionate life as a poet, which began under a pseudonym, Herminia, in a local political paper:
Each time there was a new poem by Herminia in the paper, Mamá would close the front shutters of the house and read it in a whisper to the rest of us. She was delighted with the brave Herminia. I felt guilty keeping this secret from her, but I knew if I told her, all her joy would turn to worry.
Yet for Salomé, her pseudonym allows her to become the voice of a country, "and with every link she cracked open for la patria, she was also setting me free." --Emily White