In the Time of the Butterflies – Book Review

But all I hear is my own breathing and the blessed silence of those cool, clear nights under the anacahuita tree before anyone breathes a word of the future. And I see them there in my memory, as still as statues, Mama and Papa, and Minerva and Mate and Patria, and I’m thinking something is missing now. And I count them all twice before I realize – it’s me, Dede, the one who survived to tell the story. – from In the Time of the Butterflies –

On November 25, 1960 three sisters were found dead at the bottom of a cliff in the Dominican Republic. They were Minerva, Maria Teresa and Patria Maribel- leaders in the revolt against the cruel dictator, General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. They were more popularly known to the citizens of the Dominican Republic as “The Butterflies.” Their deaths were covered up by the government as an accident – but the truth is, they were murdered.  One sister, Dede, survived to tell their story…but Julia Alvarez gives the dead women voice in her novel. Narrated in alternating chapters by each woman and beginning in the early 1940s, the book brings the reader up to the day of the murders.

There are no surprises in this novel. Right from the beginning, we know how the story ends. Dede begins the narration in 1994 as she is interviewed by a journalist, and she takes the reader back to the beginning, nearly two decades before the murders. Dede is suffering from survivor’s guilt…she needs to tell her story…and really, the book is as much about this lone surviving sister as it is about the actual historical events.

Trujillo’s crimes against his people are revealed through the voices of Minerva, Maria Teresa and Patria Maribel. Minerva was the most feisty and politically motivated of the three, and it was her voice which I thought Alvarez did a good job capturing. Even still, I found it hard to fully empathize with any of the characters who felt mostly flat to me.

Prior to reading this book, I had no knowledge of what happened in the Dominican Republic in the 1940s through the 1960s…and I did learn quite a bit. But, because of the structure of the novel, there was very little tension developed. We know the end result. We know Trujillo is a monster. We wait for Alvarez to amp up the tension, to tell us something new or illuminating. But it does not happen. Despite Alvarez’s beautiful writing, and some lovely passages, In the Time of the Butterflies never felt compelling to me.

Readers who wish to learn more about the history of the Domincan Republic may find this historical novel interesting. But for me, it was just a so-so read.

Other book blogger reviews of this novel:

Divine Comedy of Errors

Things Mean A Lot

Books and Other Stuff

Ramya’s Bookshelf

School for Activists

Have YOU read and reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add you to the links above.

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    • Nicola on October 27, 2012 at 10:58

    I think I’ll look into this one. I’m sorry it didn’t work for you but it still intrigues me. I hadn’t heard of t before.

  1. It’s got to be challenging to write a story when the ending is already known. Too bad this one failed to deliver any tension.

    • Harvee on October 27, 2012 at 11:29

    The book starts off so well, with beautiful writing. I had heard of the Trujillo years in the Dominican Republic, and this could be a good read to learn more.

    • Shannon on October 27, 2012 at 17:57

    I read this book last summer and enjoyed it, but it was hard for me to read. I don’t usually read books that I know are so outwardly sad…and considering we know the sisters are going to die from page one, it was hard to read the rest…especially as we get closer to the “date”.

  2. aw sorry to hear it was just so/so for you! I’ve wanted to read this for awhile, probably since Ana’s review.

    • Mystica on October 28, 2012 at 18:34

    The more I read, the more I realize that there are so many conflicts that I really know very little about. I just read about the Armenian genocide in The Gendarme and that was new to me as well. Now another tragic episode in history here. I think I will look for this book.

    • yolanda on October 31, 2012 at 10:12

    I really like this book. I read it awhile ago and like it a lot.

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