Another day and another book from my list of 50 Books Every Woman Should Read Before She Turns 40. This one was In the Time of the Butterflies (1994) by Julia Alvarez. I had heard of this novel before and was interested in reading it. It is a fictionalized version of the true story of four sisters in the Dominican Republic, three of whom were killed by the order of the brutal dictator, Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo came into power with a military coup, and he managed to stay in power for over thirty years from 1930 to 1961. The three sisters and their driver were murdered on November 25, 1960. They were a symbol of resistance to Trujillo.
This book was interesting and easy to read. It is no mystery that something horrible happens at the end, so there is natural, built-in tension. The reader sees the Mirabal sisters grow in age, maturity, and awareness as the novel progresses. Eventually, they become involved in active resistance to Trujillo. Minerva, the most vocal and dedicated, was the first to join the resistance. She was given the code name Mariposa, or butterfly. When her sisters joined her, they were called Mariposas as well.
We get a good look at the sisters and their family and how they became radicalized. However, I wouldn’t have minded a little more general information about the Dominican Republic and its culture. The Mirabal family was just one well-to-do family on the island. I wanted to know how Trijullo’s dictatorship affected people in worse economic circumstances, and how the Mirabal family was viewed because of their class. I know a book can’t be everything, but I could have used a little more context about the social and economic happenings of the situation.
I found reading about the sisters’ lives interesting and instructive, but having just read A Visit from the Goon Squad, I found the characterization a little flat. The sisters were all unique, but they tended to have just the one character trait that defined them. Patria, the eldest, was the religious one. Dede was the responsible one, Minerva was the rebel, and Maria Teresa is the spoiled, materialistic, youngest daughter. There were definitely moments throughout the book where there was real tension and drama, and I wish Alvarez had gone deeper into their characters. I sometimes felt something was missing.
On the whole, this was an interesting book. It is based on a true, remarkable story. I’d recommend it to those interested in the history. I also saw there was a movie made based on this book with Salma Hayek, but I haven’t seen it yet.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.