In the Time of the Butterflies

Three of the four daughters of Enrique and Mercedes Mirabal were murdered by the secret service of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo on November 25, 1960, as they returned from Puerto Plata, after paying their weekly visit to the imprisoned husbands of two of the sisters. Julia Alvarez, whose own family fled the Trujillo regime in August of 1960, when she was ten years old, captures in spine-tingling detail more than two decades of events that preceded these murders.

The first three sisters, Patria, Dede, and Minerva were born between 1924 and 1926. Teresa Marie, nicknamed Mate, followed in 1935. Of the four, only Dede survived assassination, because she was unable to travel to Puerto Plata with her sisters on the appointed day. Alvarez, using first-person narration and dividing her book into sections headed always by the name of the sister who is talking, achieves a uniquely well-rounded development of her characters, who reveal themselves in their own sections, but who are further revealed by each of the other sisters in their sections.

This is the story of how four conventional, Roman Catholic sisters evolved into revolutionaries code-named “Mariposa”—“butterfly” in Spanish—after being reared as typical, submissive Hispanic women. By defying Trujillo, Minerva, the most independent and iconoclastic sister, gains both his respect and rage. As his megalomania increases, however, the Mirabals become his obsession.

He arrested three of their husbands as well as Minerva and Mate, ultimately releasing the women to house arrest in Ojo de Agua. As Trujillo’s obsession grows, he orchestrates their murders, which transform the sisters into martyrs venerated throughout Latin America.

Bibliography

Bergman, Susan, ed. Martyrs: Contemporary Writers on Modern Lives of Faith. San Francisco: Harper, 1996. One chapter of this collection is “Chasing the Butterflies. The Mirabals: Dominican Republic, 1960,” Alvarez’s description of the path that led her to write about the Mirabal sisters.

Booklist. XC, July, 1994, p. 1892. A review of In the Time of the Butterflies.

Chicago Tribune. October 24, 1994, V, p. 3. A review of In the Time of the Butterflies.

The Christian Science Monitor. October 17, 1994, p. 13. A review of In the Time of the Butterflies.

Corpi, Lucha, ed. Máscaras. Berkeley: Third Woman Press, 1997. Included in this volume is Alvarez’s essay “An Unlikely Beginning for a Writer,” in which she describes her struggles to adjust to the English language and to perceive herself as a writer.

Cudjoe, Selwyn. Resistance and Caribbean Literature. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1980. This study of Alvarez’s predecessors helps map out one literary tradition to which she belongs.

Ghosh, Bishnupriya, and Brinda Bose, eds. Interventions: Feminist Dialogues on Third World Women’s Literature and Film. New York: Garland, 1997. Although it does not discuss In the Time of the Butterflies specifically, this collection of essays provides international perspective for Alvarez’s work.

Kirkus Reviews. LXII, July 1, 1994, p. 858. A review of In the Time of the Butterflies.

Library Journal. CXIX, August, 1994, p. 123. A review of In the Time of the Butterflies.

Ms. V, September, 1994, p. 79. A review of In the Time of the Butterflies.

The Nation. CCLIX, November 7, 1994, p. 552. A review of In the Time of the Butterflies.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, December 18, 1994, p. 28. A review of In the Time of the Butterflies.

Newsweek. CXXIV, October 17, 1994, p. 77. A review of In the Time of the Butterflies.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, July 11, 1994, p. 62. A review of In the Time of the Butterflies.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, November 27, 1994, p. 7. A review of In the Time of the Butterflies.