Picks and Pans Review: The Saviors

updated 09/14/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/14/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Helen Yglesias

The heroine of this exemplary novel is Madeleine Brewster Phillips. She and her ancient husband have come from their farm in Maine to take part in a Boston peace demonstration. Afterward, in an elegant hotel suite, she lies exhausted and relives her early life with remarkable vividness. Born Bessie Bernstein in the Bronx, she had been taken by her parents to the Midwest, where her father, who changes their name to Brewster, had gone to teach in a college. This takes place at the time of the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti. Socialism is a viable spark. Communism is a controversial plaything. Yglesias creates a wonderfully readable novel, every scene dramatically shaped, every character alive and struggling. Maddy's parents are active in a society that believes in world peace and the arrival of a savior, and when Maddy finishes high school she is shipped off to London, to the society's headquarters. There is always scandal about this group of odd people. A beautiful young Indian boy, found in a village, is being groomed for the role of savior. He is also, Maddy discovers, having an affair with a wealthy noblewoman who supports the society financially. Soon, Maddy herself is the favorite sexual partner of the temperamental Indian. As the society prepares to unveil the savior, its members travel to India, to Spain (just before the Civil War breaks out) and to New York, where Maddy must come to terms with her love for the guru and the hypocrisy of the group surrounding him. Yglesias, author of several novels (Family Feeling, Sweetsir) and a teacher of creative writing, does a beautiful job of recreating the past. She also knows that people who have spent their whole lives trying to make the world better can be, nevertheless, just as petty and confused as the rest of us. And her ending is rich and thoughtful. (Houghton Mifflin, $17.95)

From Our Partners