In the Time of the Butterflies is a fictionalized account of the lives of the four Mirabal sisters, three of whom were part of a movement to overthrow their country's brutal dictator, Raphael Trujillo.
The novel is fiction because it creates scenes, dialogue, and thought that could very well be very similar to what the sisters experienced, said, and wondered but are not in the documented historical record. Julia Alvarez imagines what life was like for these four women and creates a story around that, including all sorts of dialogue and action, then blends this with real history—such as, for example, the death of three sisters on November 25, 1960.
Although not well known in this country, the Mirabal sisters, whose deaths were a catalyst to the end of the Trujillo dictatorship, are national martyrs and heroes in the Dominican Republic. Just as a novelist in this country might recreate vividly the story of one of our national heroes, be it George Washington or Martin Luther King Jr., Alvarez does the same.
The novel does what good historical novels do, which is to recreate the underlying truth of how it felt to live in a certain period of history. Alvarez conveys, for example, what it feels like to live day to day in a brutal regime in which everyone is spied on and people suspected of disloyalty often disappear.