In 1994, Dede speaks to a “gringo writer” about her past. Dede, who is in her sixties, maintains a museum in the Dominican Republic in honor of her murdered sisters, who were nicknamed Los Mariposas (the butterflies). Dede acts as a guide for her guest, and when the writer leaves, Dede remembers a “clear moonlit night [in 1943] before the future began.” She is with her family and remembers her fun-loving father, her mother, and her sisters.
In 1938, Minerva is twelve years old. When she is sent to school, she learns the truth about the brutal Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, and she is drawn into her country’s resistance movement. She meets Sinita, a charity student whose brother was killed by Trujillo. Later, she is horrified by the fate of Lina Lovaton, the beautiful seventeen-year-old whose life is ruined by Trujillo’s courtship. In 1944, at the end of their school years, Minerva, Sinita, and their friends win a recitation contest and are invited to perform before Trujillo. In the dictator’s presence, Sinita moves toward Trujillo with her bow and arrow, but Minerva’s quick thinking saves her friend
In 1945, Maria Theresa (nicknamed Mate), the family’s youngest sister, is ten years old. She comments from her child’s point of view on a variety of experiences, including catechism, first communion, problems at school, and interactions with her family. She has positive feelings toward Trujillo but gradually learns the truth from Minerva, whose participation in secret meetings intrigues Mate. When Minerva finds that Mate has recorded her activities in her diary, she tells Mate that she must bury the diary to protect Minerva and her friends.
In 1946, Patria, the oldest sister, is twenty-two. She reminisces about her past as a religious young woman at convent school. Her struggle between her hope to be a nun and her growing awareness of physical passion is decided when she meets and marries Pedrito Gonzalez. When her first child is stillborn, she feels guilt for her choice. She remembers going on a pilgrimage with her mother and sisters. She had an epiphany looking at the weary faces of other pilgrims, realizing she had been looking “in the wrong direction” before.
Dede, in 1994, is concerned with the “deification” of her sisters. When the interviewer asks her, “When did all the problems start?” she remembers 1948, when the sisters met their radical friend, Lio. Both Dede and Minerva were attracted to him, but the family was upset when they learned Lio was a communist. Her parents’ reaction made Dede realize she was living in a police state. When Lio was forced to go into exile, he left a note for Minerva with Dede—just as her cousin Jaimito was proposing to her. Dede accepted the proposal but burned Minerva’s letter from Lio.
In 1949, Minerva has been “cooped” at home for several years, longing to be in the capital with Sinita. She is hurt that Lio left without saying goodbye, until she finds several letters. It is too late, however; Lio has gone. Minerva also discovers that her father has a second family and confronts him.
When her family is invited to one of Trujillo’s private parties, Minerva fends off the dictator’s...
(The entire section is 1328 words.)