Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

This is the story of the Mirabal sisters: Patria, Dede, Minerva, and Maria Theresa (Mate). The four revolutionary leaders in the Dominican Republic working most of their adult lives fighting against the brutal dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. They became the inspiration for a nation becoming Las Mariposas, the Butterflies a symbol of freedom.

The story begins in the present with a journalist going to visit the last surviving Mirabal sister, Dede, to get the true story of Las Mariposas. She learns about the girls upbringing on a farm in the country, their school days including their first encounter with Trujillo, and their first taste of revolutionary ideas from a young communist professor Minerva was in love with.

Every chapter of the book switches perspective, having each sister take a turn narrating their side of the story. This can often get confusing but because it follows a chronological timeline it's pretty easy to follow.

The most compelling character is definitely Minerva. Her mouth and rash behavior often puts her in a lot of trouble. She is also the first of the sisters to join the movement. At law school she meets Manolo, a leader of the resistance who she teams up with and eventually marries. She is also the brains behind a lot of their plans, even convincing the other sisters to help. Her and Mate are arrested and thrown in prison, one of the best chapters of the book, during a roundup of resistance fighters. It's told from Mate's perspective but Minerva's actions endear her to the reader.

It's hard to categorize the book. I guess it should be called historical fiction. The characters are very real, as are many of the events that take place. The question is how much is real? The author makes no pretense, this is fiction. She was inspired by the women but these are characters of her own imagination. It is very compelling and well-written. I wouldn't exactly call it a page turner but it was a quick read and really engrossing. As a self-described feminist it's great to read a story where women make a difference, and the fact that it's true makes it even better. Check it out if you like historical fiction and/or revolution! Viva Las Mariposas.

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