Book Review: In the Name of Salome by Julia Alvarez

Title: In the Name of Salome
Author: Julia Alvarez
Published: 2000
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction

Synopsis: In Julia Alvarez’s new novel, In the Name of Salome, the mother, Dominican poet and political muse Salomé Ureña, only lives long enough to hear her three-year-old daughter Camila recite one of her consumptive mother’s poems. What we get, then, is a compelling work of fiction based on remarkably tireless research and shaped by Camila’s reach into the past, into her mother’s history and her mother’s place in history, in order to make sense of the choices she has made about her own.

My Rating: red-starred-starred-starred-starred-star

We have a five-star!

In the Name of Salome is a novel that takes the reader through a journey of 100 years of Caribbean history – featured are real historical people and events so you get a good dose of history lessons. The book is told in 2 perspectives, opening with Camila Henriquez Ureña, age 60 in 1960 as she leaves her job teaching in Vassar College to travel to Cuba were young revolutionary Fidel Castro is urging people to come and join him. Camila is the daughter of famed poetess, Salome Ureña – the national poet of Dominican Republic. The second perspective is from Salome’s POV which is narrated in 1st person. Salome’s story is told in linear form from 1858 to the moment of her death. Camila’s story starts in 1960 and goes back in time so that both women met when Salome dies and Camila is born. That’s the technical aspect of this novel but it’s about so much more.

There are 2 overarching themes in this novel – the first and the most impactful for me was the love of patria. Patria would be most easily translated to ‘love of country’ – relating it to the English word of ‘patriot / patriotism’. It’s that deep rooted love towards your country of birth, it calls to you through your life and the love for it is as passionate as the love for a significant other or a child. Both women are affected by it in different ways. Salome, who never leaves the island and whose poetry inspired a nation to seek freedom from oppression and create a just and free land and Camila who left Dominican Republic at age 3 and was raised in Cuba but still yearns for her country. The second theme is the love found in family – be is sisters, fathers, brothers, mothers, etc. We explore different relationships through the novel and Alvarez really zooms in on the connection of a daughter who never knew her mother and her life-long quest to feel close to her.

Other themes done very well are racism and colorism within the Caribbean community along with feminism, religious themes and homosexuality.

Needless to say, I fell in love with this novel and I think it’s because it resonated very deeply with me, it became personal. I grew up in the Caribbean and I wrote poetry about the love of my island as a child. The description of how the mind of a poet works was so relatable to me that I highlighted the crap out of this book.

The two main characters are Salome, who is strong-willed, passionate, and spunky. She spends her life being the matriarch to a country in ruins, in her 40 years of life there are a total of 33 revolutions within in the island. Her father teaches her poetry, tells her to save her tears because the tears are a poet’s ink. We watch her grow up, we watch her fall in love with a man who disillusions her, we watch her relationship with her sister and her children and to her country. Then we have Camila who became motherless at the age of 3 and spends her life trying to grasp at the straws of her past while life as the daughter to an exiled president. Camila who questions her sexuality in a time where having feelings for a woman was considered the greatest taboo. Camila, who is painfully shy and is constantly living in the shadows of her other more successful family.

It is an incredibly moving story and one I will highly recommend. This is my first piece by Alvarez and I cannot wait to explore the rest of her novels because if they’re anything like this or better I will have nothing but more good things to say.

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