Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book Review: In the Time of the Butterflies

In the Time of the Butterflies
By: Julia Alvarez
Published By: Algonquin Books
Publication Date: August 1, 1995
Page Count: 352
Buy it at Indiebound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.
Source: personal copy
Audience: Nonfiction

You should know right of the bat that I was thisclose to giving In the Time of the Butterflies five birdies versus the 4.5 it has. I really do love this book. And not just because it is based on real events and real people, and not just because Julia Alvarez is a fantastic writer, and not just because I like a rebellious spirit just as much as I like a reluctant heroine, and not just because I had driveway moments while listening to the audio version. (I don't say this often, but I prefer the audio version to the printed for this book.)

I love this book because of all those reasons - but most of all because of the Mirabal sisters, Patria, Dedé, Minerva, and María Teresa - all four of the incredible real-life women Alvarez introduces us to and allows up to follow throughout their lives in the Dominican Republic during the rise of the tyrant dictator Rafael Trujillo.

This story is SO good, I know that review sounds elementary, and that I should be able to find better words to describe it, but it really is just GOOD. The story fascinated me - four sisters, three of them killed when their car careens off a cliff in an "accident" that is widely recognized as a hit placed by the government to silence them and send a message to their father, with one sister left to tell their story. (I'm not giving anything away - you learn all of this in the first chapter.) Their lives are fascinating, tailor-made for a novel, and Alvarez does them justice.

I thoroughly enjoyed the format of this novel, and I know some readers don't, so I think it's worth a mention. The stories of the four sisters are told in alternating chapters - each from a different sister's point of view and from different points in time (Ex. Minerva 1948 & 1960). The first person POV allowed the same story to be told from multiple perspectives, which seems to be a new thing (genre?) in literature right now. I love the different interpretations of the same events, and because each sister has such a distinct and different personality, it isn't difficult to keep them separate as you read. Alvarez has created such solid and unique characters that you start to wish that YOU were the fifth sister by the time you're a a few chapters into the book. 

As far as the sisters themselves, I love them all but Minerva is my favorite sister, hands down. I love a rebel. I like to loosely interpret the rules. I respect brazen courage and admire lucky stupidity. She is the sister who begins their involvement in the resistance during Trujillo's rise to power, and it is ultimately her commitment that involves the rest of her family. Patria is the oldest, a devout Christian, and the pseudo-parent of the four (good name for that, no?). Dedé is the worrier and the most reluctant to get involved in the revolution. And María Teresa is the baby, nearly 10 years younger than Minerva, and spoiled as only a youngest child can be, though she will surprise you in the end.

Final Word: I love these women. The Mirabal sisters will both inspire you and make you think about your family and your principles in a meaningful way. And I mentioned this before - but get the audio version - the pronunciation of the Spanish words is gorgeous and adds to the enjoyment of the read.

Goodreads Summary: 

  Set during the waning days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in 1960, this extraordinary novel tells the story the Mirabal sisters, three young wives and mothers who are assassinated after visiting their jailed husbands. 

From the author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents comes this tale of courage and sisterhood set in the Dominican Republic during the rise of the Trujillo dictatorship. A skillful blend of fact and fiction, In the Time of the Butterflies is inspired by the true story of the three Mirabal sisters who, in 1960, were murdered for their part in an underground plot to overthrow the government. Alvarez breathes life into these historical figures--known as "las mariposas," or "the butterflies," in the underground--as she imagines their teenage years, their gradual involvement with the revolution, and their terror as their dissentience (sic) is uncovered. 

Alvarez's controlled writing perfectly captures the mounting tension as "the butterflies" near their horrific end. The novel begins with the recollections of Dede, the fourth and surviving sister, who fears abandoning her routines and her husband to join the movement. Alvarez also offers the perspectives of the other sisters: brave and outspoken Minerva, the family's political ringleader; pious Patria, who forsakes her faith to join her sisters after witnessing the atrocities of the tyranny; and the baby sister, sensitive Maria Teresa, who, in a series of diaries, chronicles her allegiance to Minerva and the physical and spiritual anguish of prison life. 

In the Time of the Butterflies is an American Library Association Notable Book and a 1995 National Book Critics Circle Award nominee.


  1. I'll have to see if this book was originally written in Spanish and if so I'll get that edition, since I always prefer to read a book in the language it was written if I know it!

  2. I almost said I wasn't sure - but then I checked and several sources list a translator, so yes, I'm guessing it was originally written in Spanish. :)


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