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In The Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Readers, would you agree that you stumble upon some really great books when they aren’t books you would choose for yourself?  It is hit or miss for me, but generally, when I read something I never would have picked up off the shelf of my own volition, I’m pretty impressed.  You can expect a lot more books like this since my happiness project involves a monthly goal to read or watch something I never would have considered otherwise.  This book, In The Time of Butterflies, I picked up in an effort to change up the 10th grade novel at our school (I also hoped to make our curriculum a little less old, rich, white guy centered).  While Alvarez’s novel won’t be used as our school-wide novel for 10th grade, it was an interesting read nonetheless.

Set during the reign of dictator Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, In The Time of Butterflies is a fictionalized account of 4 revolutionary sisters, the Mirabels – 3 of whom were assassinated for their work as revolutionaries opposed to Trujillo’s rule.  Told through four differing viewpoints – from each sister at varying points of the revolution – Alvarez artfully captures both the revolutionary activity and every day activity of these famous sisters.  She develops the characters to seem very much like real people, which is quite an undertaking when writing characters out of historical figures who actually existed.  The reader gets to follow the very unique experience of each sister from their first days in school, through marriage and children, to the fear and imprisonment leading up to their murders.

The thing I liked most about this novel was that it sparked my curiosity about a period in history that I don’t know much about.  I remember vague murmurings of Fidel Castro in Cuba during my history classes, but similar dictatorships in the Dominican Republic were never mentioned, and I’m already interested in learning more.  Additionally, I loved how real the characters were.  Yes, they were iconic revolutionaries.  They were also women with families who experienced exactly what you might expect when their world as they knew it came crashing down around them.  Throughout, I had a very real understanding that though working for the revolutionary was worth it for the fictional versions of the Mirabal sisters, it wasn’t always easy.  In fact, it rarely was.

There were times that the book was hard to read.  Admittedly, at times it was because the narrative became very long-winded and I was waiting for something to actually happen.  This is one critique of the novel.  However, other times, through no fault of Alvarez or her writing, the story simply became very intense, and something I needed to read in smaller doses.

If you’re interested in historical fiction, I’d recommend this book.  The different accounts were well-written and the characters were multi-dimensional and real.  Additionally, it’s an area of history that is recent and occurred close to home – yet many of us don’t know much about this, and that should be changed!  I give In The Time of Butterflies 3 stars.  ★★★

– Becca

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