Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Review: In the Time of the Butterflies
I saw this book on my friend's bookshelf and immediately had to pick it up. Some books just do that to me. I don't know if it was the cover or the description of the book that made me do it. Whatever it was, I am glad I picked this book up.
Julia Alvarez fictionalizes the lives of four sisters in the Dominican Republic under the dictator Trujillo.They were involved in the resistance against him. I was horrified to hear that US, after leaving the Dominican Republic in the 1920s, gave Trujillo the right to rule knowing that he was a repeated rapist! The Mirabal Sisters slowly come to know of the atrocities committed by him as they are growing up and eventually end up in the secret movement against him. In the end, three of the four sisters - Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa were beaten to death after their car was ambushed by Trujillo's men. Dede alone survived. Known as "the butterflies", the sisters became beloved national heroines.
Julia Alvarez attempts to re-create the lives of the four sisters through this book. She read about the sisters and even managed to meet with Dede. But she decided to give the sisters a life of her own and made this book a fiction. I loved the way the book was written. Each chapter is narrated by a different sister. Dede's has a present and a past version. Maria Teresa's section are just pages from her diary. Through these bits and pieces, we get to know the four sisters. Each one of them so unique- and yet, somehow, all so similar.
From their accounts, it becomes obvious who would enter the movement first - Minerva; the girl with the courage to slap Trujillo when he makes a move on her at a party. When you can go that far, joining the resistance movement against him cannot be much farther, can it? Slowly, Patria, Maria Teresa and Minerva are neck deep in the resistance movement. The religious Patria seems to be the least likely to involve herself in this but she finds her own way of joining in the movement. Dede however doesnt involve herself too much because of her husband Jaime and his political views. By the time she decides to get involved with her sisters, it is a little too late.
The book is definitely not perfect. Alvarez has faced many criticisms for attempting to humanize the idols. She has even been accused of being an "outsider" with no knowledge of the actual happenings. In addition, when I tried to google this book, i read some more about Trujillo's atrocities against Afro-Dominicans. alvarez doesn't mention anything about that in the book.
Despite all that, I loved the book. I am glad she made that effort to bring to light the story of 'the butterflies'. The world definitely deserves to know more about them!
This was a perfect time for me to read this book. November 25 is observed as "The International Day Against Violence Towards Women". It was on this day in 1960 that the Mirabal sisters were killed.
I highly recommend this book.. It was a very interesting read!