Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Book review: In the Time of the Butterflies

I recently read In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez. The story is a fictional account of the four Mirabal sisters, three of whom played important roles in opposing the dictator Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930-1961. The sisters were known as The Butterflies, due their revolutionary code name, Mariposa. They became national heroes, and their murder became a turning point in the revolution, inciting public outrage against Trujillo's regime. In her novel, Alvarez attempts to humanize the sisters and their struggle. Minerva is the leader, the true revolutionary, and the first to join the rebellion. Maria Theresa, young and beautiful, joins the cause, partly in admiration of her older sister, and partly because she has fallen in love with one of the activists. Patria is a devout Catholic, who becomes inspired to participate in the underground after attending a pilgrimage. Dede is the only one who is not actively involved in politics; she later becomes caretaker of her sisters' children and their legend.

Although I wasn't overly impressed by Alvarez's writing style (check out Isabel Allende if you're into Latin American writers), I was completely captivated by the story of the Mirabal sisters. Before reading this book, I knew nothing about the history of the Dominican Republic and had never heard of them. Many Latin American countries have a similar pattern of history: years of a brutal dictatorship eventually overthrown by leftist rebels, and the socialist aspect of these revolutions has always scared the bejeezus out of the U.S. government. This novel will undoubtedly cause readers to sympathize with and admire both the Mirabal sisters and their cause. It was amazing how much the setting reminded me of my time in Nicaragua, despite the fact that the majority of the book takes place 50 years ago. In one scene, Minerva discovers that her father has four children with a poor woman who lives on his property. The image of the four illegitimate children, dressed in rags while their father drives around in an expensive car, is all too familiar. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and was impressed by how Alvarez manages to transform the legendary martyrs into living, individual women.

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