Valencia College, Lake Nona Campus

A Review of Julia Alvarez’s 1994 novel, In the Time of the Butterflies

Looking back in history, it is evident that the 1960’s were a time of revolution around the globe. The Dominican Republic was no exception. In her 1994 novel In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez reveals the grief and constant war this country perceived during the Trujillo dictatorship.

The Mirabal sisters, known as “the butterflies,” cause extreme turmoil as they leave the grounds, brush the dust off their dresses, pack their bags, and head to Santo Domingo to obtain an education. As tradition directed in this era, women were in no form praised for obtaining an education in fields of medicine or law, especially not during the Trujillo dictatorship. The Mirabal sisters came from old money; their father had worked all his life under careful discipline under the regimen. As Minerva, the second youngest of the four sisters, grows a desire for law and justice, she soon develops a strong dislike for Trujillo’s dictatorship.

In the story, Minerva’s focus to overthrow the corrupted government later passes down to all sisters except for Dede. Alvarez tells the story from the perspective of each individual sister, dedicating a chapter to each one individually, embodying the characters and focusing on the thoughts and feelings. While eloquently showcasing the tragic events of the revolution that sparked from the constant rallies, through vivid imagery and delicate diction, Alvarez depicts the beauty of fighting for justice.

In the midst of a revolution where there seems to be no hope, four women connected more by thoughts than blood, whose opinions are dismissed by those of power, lead a group of believers to a revolutionary warfare that, although tragic, changes the political course of the Dominican Republic for years to come. Alvarez, with respect, lays down the Mirabal sisters through the lenses of victory, the teary eyes of accomplishment. Although their death did not immediately stop Trujillo from enforcing his narcissist ways, it did bring home to the people. A year after their death, Trujillo was killed.

Alvarez does a wonderful job of attracting the reader to the story; one does not need to know any history about the Dominican Republic to understand this book, as suffering and revolution are as prominent today as it was eighty years ago. The story of the Mirabal sisters is not only a historic moment but remains a constant reminder of the importance of feminism as well as justice. In the Time of the Butterflies is indeed an extraordinary tale of everyday human struggles and determination.

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