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In the Time of the Butterflies (Julia Alvarez)

March 21, 2011

I’ve been hearing good things about In the Time of the Butterflies for a few years now, but until recently I haven’t had the chance to read it. I finally got around to it last week, and I couldn’t put it down. Having read Junot Díaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I was already somewhat familiar with the Trujillo era in the Dominican Republic’s history. However, Alvarez’s novel presented a very personal view of what it meant to be a woman during that time. While Díaz’s novel is told by a hypermasculine character-narrator who focuses on all things sex-related, Alvarez’s novel revolves around the lives of the famous Mirabal sisters, telling their stories through four unique and individual voices (all female).

Gender aside, this novel offers thoughtful and hypothetical insights into the lives of the ill-fated Mirabal sisters from their individual childhoods to their separate-but-connected adulthoods. It’s a moving story about four strong women who, in different ways and varying degrees, become enmeshed in a political movement intent on eliminating Trujillo. Alvarez has imagined their personal thoughts and emotions in a way that is at once plausible and incredibly poignant. In an undertaking such as this one, any author would run the risk of over-valorizing the characters to the point of flatness, but I think Alvarez has written characters who are complex — embodying heroic qualities right alongside their very human qualities (such as jealousy and regret) — and who feel incredibly real. ¡Viva Las Mariposas!

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