Updated: Oct 23, 2018
In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez is a powerfully written book about the four Mirabel sisters in the 1960’s Dominican Republic who stand up against the Dictator General Rafael Trujillo. With their acts of rebellion they are looked up to as heroines and called “Las Mariposas”—the Butterflies.
Alvarez herself is from the Dominican Republic and her father was in the same underground movement as “The Butterflies." Also in danger, the Alvarez family escaped four months before the Mirabel sisters were murdered. In her novel, Alvarez captures the historical premise but fleshes out the characters, explaining, "I hope that through this fictionalized story I will bring acquaintance of these famous sisters to English speaking readers. November 25, the day of their murders is observed in many Latin American countries as the International Day Against Violence Toward Women. Obviously, these sisters, who fought one tyrant, have served as models for women fighting against injustices of all kinds."
The saga of the Mirabel family covers childhood to adulthood and their violent death. Bookended with the surviving sister’s guilty reflections, the various chapters are successfully narrated by each of the four sisters, capturing each of their voices, much like Barbara Kingsolver did with The Poisonwood Bible.
With the Butterflies, Alvarez also educates readers about history and locales in much the same way, Strength in What Remains and Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight educate readers on genocide, immigration, and racial conflict. I was born in the 1960’s and know very little about the Dominican Republic and the atrocities committed under the Trujillo dictatorship. This also makes for a relevant and timely read because of Fidel Castro’s unsuccessful 1959 attempt to overthrow Trujillo’s reign and the lack of truth-telling in politics. Trujillo himself claimed, "He who does not know how to deceive does not know how to rule."
But In the Time of the Butterflies is not just about a violent and repressive regime, it’s about romance and family and courage and determining when to risk your life in a revolution that may benefit future generations. Though El Jefe’s 31 years in power are some of the brutal and bloodiest in the America’s, four strong women took a stand and are still remembered in powerful ways.