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!


bermudaonion said...

I love stories about strong women like that.

Dar said...

Ramya, great review. This certainly does sound like a novel well worth reading. YOu always manage to come up with different books that sound so good. I love the cover on this book also. Of course, I love butterflies. I wonder on the significance of her trying to catch a butterfly-maybe trying to recapture her sisters after their death. I don't know-just rambling today.

Madeleine said...

I have this book on my TBR. I wll make a note of it.
Do you know a movie was made a few years ago based on the book.

Nymeth said...

I'm so glad to hear you loved it, Ramya. I haven't read it yet, but I loved her book How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, so I really want to read it.

They seem to have a similar structure - the Garcia girls are also four sisters, and we have sections from the perspective of each. Plus it also deals with Dominican history and the horrifying violence Trujillo's regime was responsible for.

Like you said about this book, it was not perfect, but it was so human and so beautifully written that I fell in love with it.

Ramya said...

@bermudaonion - lol! you are so quick with your comments:)

@dar - the cover is very appealing.. i loved it as well..:) and wow! i never did think of the cover that way.. now that you mentioned it, it makes so much sense!hmmm....

@madeleine - i did read about the movie as well.. the book was it!:)

@nymeth - that's too many similarities for two books by the same author.. but i have been meaning to read other books by her because i really enjoyed reading this one!:)

J. Kaye Oldner said...

I wanted to drop by and wish you an awesome Thanksgiving. :)

ruinedbyreading said...

I saw the movie of this in Spanish class when I was in high school. The book sounds good. I think I'll have to read it now.

Veens said...

The cover does it for me.. I want to get it now :) Thanks Ramya... this is why I love your blog :)

Trish said...

This one sounds great--I especially like how she uses the different characters to narrate the different chapters. I'm always drawn to multi-narrated books (I'm sure there's a technical term for that...?). I've heard good things about the author's other books.

Pratima said...

Your reveiw is so well written that there is no way I am going to miss this book!

Currently reading Purple Hibiscus.. Again, picked this up reading your review :)

Ashwin said...

Nice review. Keep up the good work and Happy Thanksgiving!

Shana said...

Ramya, I love this book. I think I'd rank it as my favorite by Alvarez, because of the historical element, although How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is a close second.


Ramya said...

@j.kaye - happy thanksgiving to you too!:)

@ruinedbyreading - try the book. i am sure you'll like it..:)

@veens - isn't it absolutely pretty?? i love the butterflies..:)

@trish - have you read the poinsonwood bible by barbara kingsolver.. it has the whole multi-narration thing going on as well and i loved it!:)

@pratima - thanks!:) and hope you're liking purple hibiscus..:)

@ashwin - thank you! and happy thanksgiving to you as well!:)

@shana - i am definitely picking up that one soon..

Trish said...

Yes! I read it several years ago and it's on the list of books I would love to re-read someday.

Anna said...

This sounds like a great book. I love stories like this. Thanks for the review!

Diary of an Eccentric