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Review: In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

October 12, 2012

In the Time of the Butterflies coverTitle: In the Time of the Butterflies
Author: Alvarez, Julia
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Publisher / Year: Algonquin Books / 1994
Source: Second book received from my LibraryThing SantaThing last Christmas.
Rating: 5/5
Why I Read It: It was a gift, and it sounded interesting.
Date Read: 05/09/12

On November 25, 1960, three of the Mirabal sisters in the Dominican Republic were killed by the dictatorial regime. In this book, Alvarez imagines the life of the four sisters (the three who were murdered and the fourth who survived) from when they were little through to their death.

The novel opens with Dedé preparing for an interview, yet another, about her famous sisters – the butterflies of the revolution. From there, she moves to flashbacks of what she remembers, which moves smoothly to the next three chapters, one narrated by each of the martyred sisters, Patria, Minerva, and Marie Teresa. Each of the three sections is written in this manner, advancing in years as the novel progresses.

While my (obvious) preference would have been for a non-fiction biography of the sisters, this was an incredibly moving novel that worked so well. All four sisters had such a distinct voice and feel than the others. Their lives interacted so well through their stories and the family dynamics were believable and interesting.

The novel also gave an interesting portrayal of life under a brutal and suppressive dictator. It highlighted the ways that people are hidden from the truths and brainwashed into believing fabricated truths. It also showed the ways that people slowly come to learn, and the ways that people act when confronted, at long last, with the actual facts. Each of the sisters reacted in different ways to the knowledge of this truth, and it took some time for all of them. It was a fantastic portrayal of the different ways we all act under pressure and stress.

Highly recommended to all who enjoy stories about families, about revolution, about strong women, and / or about the ways in which we all choose to cope.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2012 8:16 am

    I love this novel so much I used to teach it. The shifting point of view–from one sister to another–heightened the emotional impact of the story they were telling, so that I thought it was much more powerful and memorable than it could have been as non-fiction.

  2. October 12, 2012 8:25 am

    Love this novel to pieces as well. Alvarez’s How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent is also really good.

  3. October 12, 2012 8:47 am

    This sounds remarkable. I love to read about strong women and will put this book on my wish list.

  4. debbierodgers permalink
    October 12, 2012 10:16 am

    “Highly recommended to all who enjoy stories about families, about revolution, about strong women, and / or about the ways in which we all choose to cope.”

    Yes, yes, yes & yes! This goes to the top of my TBR list! Thanks for the recommendation. :-)

  5. October 12, 2012 10:57 am

    Thanks for this review Amy! I just requested the book from my library’s website and I’m looking forward to reading it!

  6. October 12, 2012 11:01 am

    I love this book. When I came across it as a teenager, it broadened my view of the world. There is a non-fiction account written by Dede, but as far as I know it is only available in Spanish. I have a copy, but my Spanish is pretty weak so I haven’t made it far into the book and can’t tell you whether it is any good.

  7. October 12, 2012 4:55 pm

    Like you, I will love to read a non-fiction of this; but the fiction can do. Pithy review.

  8. October 12, 2012 5:52 pm

    I’ve read one Alvarez book and loved it so I’m looking forward to reading more of hers. This sounds as excellent as I remember her Yo! to be.

  9. October 12, 2012 6:38 pm

    I took a class with Julia Alvarez while I was in college, and I am sorry to say, I still haven’t read this one of hers…. Bad me. :) I do have it on the shelves though.

  10. October 12, 2012 8:15 pm

    Curious that the author would write a novel as opposed to a non fiction book. I agree that this would be preferable.

    Your commentary does make this seem very good, however. Trujillo was indeed a very bad character.

  11. softdrink permalink
    October 13, 2012 12:57 am

    I’ve had this on my shelf for years. And every time I read a post about it I think “Must read. Soon.” Not sure why I haven’t listened to myself.

  12. October 13, 2012 5:19 am

    I have this one in my TBR and keep meaning to get to it. Thanks for the encouragement!

  13. October 14, 2012 12:09 pm

    Hopefully I will lay my hand on this novel. Nice review.

  14. October 16, 2012 5:11 pm

    I have a Julia Alvarez novel waiting on my shelf and I’ve been meaning to read it for so long. Thanks for the reminder! :)

  15. November 5, 2012 11:28 am

    I saw a film some time ago along similar lines, though I cannot remember the title. A fine review, as usual, of a remarkable book.

  16. November 7, 2012 5:07 pm

    A lovely novel, beautifully written and a succinct review.

  17. hachechi permalink
    November 16, 2012 6:59 pm

    I stumbled upon your blog while looking for book recommendations. I had heard about “In the time of butterflies” but reading your review of it I think I will buy it. I just started blogging about books so far its been an interesting experience. Thanks for the review.

    • November 16, 2012 7:00 pm

      I stumbled upon your blog while looking for book recommendations. I had heard about “In the time of butterflies” but reading your review of it I think I will buy it. I just started blogging about books so far its been an interesting experience. Thanks for the review.

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