Wednesday, June 3, 2020

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

A Blue Morpho butterfly in her prime.

In 1960 Julia Alvarez was ten-years-old when her family fled the Dominican Republic for the USA. The SIM military police had uncovered her father's involvement in a plot against General Trujillo's authoritarian regime. That same year in the DR, three of the four Mirabal sisters were murdered. Their deaths were made to look like an accident but everyone knew the truth. Those brave young women, code-named the Butterflies (las Mariposas in Spanish), were the beloved symbols of the resistance. Author Julia Alvarez reimagined their story in her gorgeous historical novel, In the Time of the Butterflies. Although the book was first published 26 year ago, this tale of a narcissistic dictator and the brave young women who dared to defy him feels all the more relevant today.

The story itself was compelling, but what made me fall in love with In the Time of the Butterflies were the well developed characters, the gorgeous writing, and the interesting narrative structure. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of the four sisters, following them from their privileged girlhood to a revolutionary adulthood under the tyranny of Trujillo's reign. Each voice was unique. The eldest sister was the most cautious due to her overbearing husband. The second sister was a dedicated revolutionary, who secretly suffered under the burden of heroic expectations. The third sister was motivated by religious passion and family loyalty. The baby sister disclosed too much in her diaries, admitting her infatuation with the revolutionary men more than the cause, making her delightfully human. Every reader could identify with one of the sisters. It felt so real and relatable, this focus on their family life and the villainy of Trujillo, more than on the polemic of the revolution. However, the trajectory of their tragic lives clearly illustrates the horrors of authoritarianism. 

A Blue Morpho butterfly with shut wings is well camouflaged. The spots look like owl eyes to scare predators.

In the "Postscript," Julia Alvarez explains why she decided to reimagine the personal life of the sisters: "As for the sisters of legend, wrapped in superlatives and ascended into myth, they were also finally inaccessible to me. I realized, too, that such deification was dangerous, the same god-making impulse that had created our tyrant. And ironically, by making them myth, we lost the Mirabals once more, dismissing the challenge of their courage as impossible for us, ordinary men and women."

This might be the treacherous mountain range that the Mirabal sister crossed to reach Puerta Plata.

Read In the Time of the Butterflies to find the courage to fight for change and to remember how to feel hope for a brighter future. The Butterflies will remind you to appreciate family and democracy and to take nothing for granted. I read the book to research my own historical novel about Jewish refugees in the Dominican Republic under Trujillo, and I feel all the more inspired. To practice my Spanish I'm also reading Alvarez's children's delightful Tía Lola series, which I'd recommend to 8-12 year-olds in either English or Spanish. Alvarez is a master of her craft and one of my favorite authors.

¡Vivan las Mariposas!

The gorgeous Blue Morpho butterfly near the end of her short life.

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@Barrie Summy


Linda McLaughlin said...

Sounds like a fascinating read, Sarah. I*'d never heard of the Mirabel sisters, but I know very little about Dominican history.

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Powell River Books said...

Unless we learn from the errors and problems of the past, the more they will repeat themselves. - Margy

pattinase (abbott) said...

What a gorgeous review, both the writing and the illustrations.

Jenn Jilks said...

I really enjoy reviews that combine the reviewers photos with the review! It shows how much the topic interests you! Good work.

Barrie said...

I love a book with varying points of view. Partly because I find this difficult to write so I really appreciate it when its well done. Thank you for all the detail in this review and for including your own photos. I'm sure this book is getting you excited about writing your next one!

A Cuban In London said...

Someone mentioned this book to me some time ago. Thanks for the reminder. Great review.

Greetings from London.

troutbirder said...

My kind of story Sarah. Women gaining a voice and impact against a dictator. Perhaps a bit similar to what happening on American streets these days. Fortunately our own wannabe strongman is so utterly incompetent at everything he touches that he is a worldwide embarrassment for our country. Thank you for your comment on my blog. You may not know I lost my wife some months ago to Alzheimer's now just beginning to catch up on my neglected blogs.

sage said...

A good review and this sounds like a worthy book to read. I don't think I've read anything from DR (except maybe about baseball players from there). I like how you illustrated your post with butterflies.

Donna said...

Beautiful photos and a great review. I'm going to add this to my to-read list along with her series for kids, because I need to brush up on my Spanish!

Midlife Roadtripper said...

In the Time of the Butterfles is one of my favorite reads. She has written a new book and it is on my list. Hope to get to it this summer.

thecuecard said...

Interesting. Thanks for recommending this novel. I will get it from the Library! I also want to read her new book out this year. Love the butterflies too. We could all use some hope and inspiration.

Jenny said...

Butterflies are such fascinating creatures. Thanks for the review. Now I will add this title to my very long to-read-list. :) I really like your blog and the topics you write about. I will definitely visit again.
Take care