Julia Alvarez's novel In the Name of Salome weaves the life and spirit of Salome Urena, and her reserved daughter, Salome Camila, through a journey of political unrest in the Dominican Republic. Throughout her life, Salome describes in poetry the tumultuous days of rebellions and the serenity of fleeting peace between political powers. The book follows the history of the Dominican Republic through the eyes and poetry of Salome, voiced through her daughter Camila, whose history weaves together her mother's life and her country's turmoil, bonding mother and daughter together throughout time.
The novel begins in 1960 with Camila attempting to tell her mother's story to her dear friend Marion, connecting the two women's lives by bringing together the past and the present. Rich in imagery, In the Name of Salome transcends time by linking the history of the Dominican Republic to the life of Salome. Enveloping a wide variety of themes, Alvarez takes us through political rebellions, opens hearts to love and family, and reveals the pains and struggles of education and self-identity.
Following the traditional genre of the novel, Alvarez journeys between the past and the present, represented by Salome and Camila, incorporating poems and letters to tell the women's stories. By using this form of storytelling, Alvarez has brought the women's contrasting experiences together, uniting time, place, and characters into the politics of their country, the emotions of love, and the journey of self-discovery.
One of the themes of the novel is the contrast of political struggles and war with the inner struggles and oppression Salome and Camila experience. The continuous political struggle for power were not understood by the child Salome. She only knew that "one side was red and the other side was blue-color being the only way we could tell one side from the other, though both sides said that whatever they were doing, they were doing for la patria. " (13) Spending many days in a hole under the house, fearful of what was happening on the outside, is an experience that connects to Salome and Camila, both hiding inside themselves, fearful of revealing who they are to the outside.
The oppressiveness of war forces many of the people to live in an impoverished state, seeking ways out of their homeland without alienating themselves or those they leave behind. None are more oppressed than the women, who, represented by Salome, hide within themselves until they find their way out through writing, education, or self-discovery. By writing poetry under a different name, Salome finds a way to reveal what she holds inside, until she is "exposed. " It is here that she speaks to the people of her country, giving hope and building a foundation to stand upon. Salome has gained the respect of the people of the Dominican Republic by offering an opportunity, through her poetry, to attain freedom. In pursuing the dream of peace by stepping out of her limitations as a woman, she takes the opportunity to educate young girls in reading and writing, offering a better path for other women.
It is through Salome's poetry and spirit that Camila weaves her own path of breaking free. Through self-discovery and identifying her own passions for her country, learning about her mother's history, and coming to terms with being the daughter of a highly-respected, famous mother, Camila embraces herself and finds her own freedom.
Amongst the themes of political rebellions and inner struggle are those of love and betrayal. The love for family, country, and other human beings, whether man or woman, are relationships Salome and Camila struggle to understand. They long to know what love for another means. And if part of that love is betrayal, can love overcome everything else. Salome asks a dear friend, "Is love stronger than anything else in the world?" (259). Suffering from the pain of loss through death and betrayal, both women find solace in love for each other that makes everything else bearable. It is through experiencing love that they gain an understanding though not an acceptance, of what life has offered. Their undying love and devotion to one another and their country transcends time and brings the reader into their lives as well.
Keeping the spirit of Salome Urena alive is another theme addressed in In the Name of Salome. Because of the book's organization and travel in time, Salome is alive throughout much of the novel. It is, however, when Camila's life becomes more entwined as she tells the story of her mother that Salome's energy and spirit transcend time, keeping her alive. Alvarez vitalizes Salome through her beautiful and descriptive imagery; giving the reader a full view of the country, its people, the daughter Salome loved so deeply, the characters, the emotions, and the experienced oppression. "Still, as she walks home, she cannot forget the indifference in their voices, the casualness of their dismissal. Everything of ours-from lives to literature-has always been so disposable, she thinks. It is as if a little stopper that has contained years of bitterness inside her has been pulled out. She smells her anger-it has a metallic smell mixed in with earth, a rusting plow driven into the ground. " (39) It is this descriptive imagery that keeps us turning the pages, hoping to find the ultimate unification of mother and daughter, country and people, true freedom and expression. Even at the end of the book, the story is not finished. The continuation of political unrest, oppression, and loss, is evident today. But the voice and spirit of Salome has been kept alive by the power of words and love, transcending time.
Julia Alvarez has written other books; How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of Butterflies, and YO! She has also published a collection of essays, Something to Declare, as well as two collections of poetry, Homecoming and The Other Side/El Otro Lado. She divides her time between the Dominican Republic, running an organic coffee farm and literacy/arts center with her husband, in Vermont.
Julia Alvarez's In the Name of Salome is a beautiful novel, entertaining for readers at any level. Although the characters are fictional, the historical themes and emotions of Salome and Camila are still with us. Breaking their silence and emerging into a world filled with oppression, they gave a voice to their suppression, offering an understanding of the inner struggles and political turmoil surrounding them. Alvarez's novel provides an insight into the soul of a country, its people and women, enveloping imagery that goes beyond the last page.