In the Time of the Butterflies
|Original title||In the Time of the Butterflies|
|Translator||Rolando Costa Picazo|
|Language||English and Spanish language|
|Publisher||Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||344 pp (first edition, hardback) 427 pp (paperback/Spanish)|
|ISBN||ISBN 978-1-56512-038-9 (first edition, hardback)|
|LC Class||PS3551.L845 I5 1994|
In the Time of the Butterflies is a historical novel by Julia Alvarez, relating an account of the Mirabal sisters during the time of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. The book is written in the first and third person, by and about the Mirabal sisters. First published in 1994, the story was adapted into a feature film in 2001.
This is the story of the four Mirabal sisters during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. The sisters make a political commitment to overthrow the Trujillo regime. They are harassed, persecuted, and imprisoned, all while their family suffers retaliation from the Military Intelligence Service. They are eventually awarded for their leadership. The book presents the perspective of the surviving sister, Dedé. Throughout the book the events leading up to each sister's political awakening are discussed. Dedé Mirabal, as the last sister, became a national hero and was obligated to tell and retell the tragic story of her sisters. Although Dedé at first refuses, she eventually tells her sisters' tale. She explains how Minerva had a dream of going to a school, which was unusual for farmers' daughters. When she eventually convinced her father to allow her go, Minerva meets a girl, Sinita, who later became one of her best friends. Sinita eventually confided in Minerva the truth about Trujillo - that their "glorious" leader was a killer.
During the time Minerva was in school, other events help bring the dictator's secrets to light. One of Minerva's friends was taken by Trujillo to carry his child, and was then exiled from the Dominican Republic to escape the wrath of Trujillo's wife.
Years later, Minerva was invited to a party held by Trujillo in Santo Domingo. When he repeatedly tried to court her, she slapped him, putting her family in jeopardy. The Mirabal sisters and their husbands were participants in the June 14 political group, which operated through illegal gatherings in Patria Mirabal's house, where they discussed their plot against Trujillo. The members of the group used false names, with the Mirabal sisters all referred to as "Butterfly", followed by a number to indicate the individual sister.
As vengeance for their political activities, Trujillo orders three of the sisters be killed on Puerto Plata Road, with their driver Rufino, while returning from visiting their husbands in jail. The women and driver are beaten to death and later their vehicle and bodies are dumped off a cliff in order to make their deaths look like an accident.
Minerva: The third Mirabal sister, and certainly the most headstrong. She is focused on law school, and succeeds in completing it as an adult, although Trujillo withholds her degree as revenge. She has a brief romance with the revolutionary leader "Lio" before she meets Manolo in law school (also a revolutionary), and marries him. She has two children, a daughter Minou and a son Manolito.
Dedé: Dede is the second Mirabal sister. She is not as certain about the revolution as her sisters, and feels weaker because of that fact. She has mixed feelings about joining the revolution, so she doesn't. She uses her husband, Jaimito, as the reason she doesn't officially join. He doesn't want her involved in the revolution, and the conflict almost destroys their marriage. She is constantly worrying about her sisters, telling them they'll be killed. She has children, all boys, Enrique, Rafael, and David.
María Teresa: The youngest of the four Mirabal sisters, she is very materialistic. She marries Leandro and has one daughter, named Jacqueline. She joined the revolution while she is living with her sister Minerva. She joined because she wanted to feel worthy of Leandro.
Patria: The oldest of the Mirabal sisters, she is very religious. While looking for her calling from God, she instead finds her husband, Pedrito, whom she marries at age 16. Her faith wavers intensely as a young woman. She takes the miscarriage of her third child as God's punishment towards her, which drives her further into a religious depression. She later regains her faith on a pilgrimage to Higuey that she takes with her mother and sisters. She has three children: Nelson, Noris, and Raul Ernesto. She is also a revolutionary, starting a Christian revolutionary group and merging it with her sister Minerva's revolutionary group.
Trujillo: Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, also known as "El Jefe" ("the Chief"), the main antagonist of the novel. He is the self-appointed dictator of the Dominican Republic. A harsh ruler, he demands complete obedience of everyone and commits many cruel and unjust acts against his people, such as imprisonment without trial, confiscating land and possessions, and torture. Though married, he has many affairs with young girls who he keeps in houses around the country. He is also identified as a rapist. As his regime falls apart, he becomes even more vicious and cruel, and eventually has the Mirabal girls (all except for Dede) killed, when they become too much of an opposition to his decaying power.
Mamá: Mother to the Mirabal girls, and married to Papa. She takes care of the girls and is always worried about them.
Papá: Father to the Mirabal girls, and married to Mama. He heads the family store.
Pedrito González: A farmer. He married Patria Mirabal when she was 16, on February 24, 1947. He and his wife eventually join the revolution, along with their son, Nelson. He is later imprisoned, along with his brothers-in-law, Leandro and Manolo, for participating in the revolution. He and Patria have three children: Nelson, Noris, and Raulito.
Fela: A worker for the Mirabal family who claims to be a fortune teller. After the girls die, she claims to be possessed by them. Minou goes to Fela for a time to "talk" to her mother after her death.
Minou: One of Minerva's children, Minou was born around 1956. Like her mother, she is strong-willed and independent.
Don Manuel: Trujillo's right-hand man. Manuel is very "tall and dapper" (page 110). He is a corrupt politician, like many of Trujillo's cronies. Manuel does many of Trujillo's odd jobs, such as delivering messages and threats for him.
Virgilio: Virgilio Morales, nicknamed "Lio". He is a revolutionary, but unlike most, he is not underground. He speaks out publicly against the government, which is considered suicide. Lio was forced into hiding because of his actions against the government. He was very close to Minerva before he fled the country. He asked her to flee with him but Minerva did not get the letter in time because Minerva's father hid the letters from her.
Jaimito: Jaimito is Dede's husband and cousin. Jaimito and Dede live on his farm after they are married. He is opposed to his wife's family's involvement in the revolution, and forbids her to join. When he and Dede were first married he was kind, but over the years he and Dede drift apart. He cares deeply for his boys.
Sinita: Minerva's good friend, whom she met at Inmaculada Catholic School for Girls. She later goes to Santo Domingo and becomes a revolutionary, just like Minerva. All the men in Sinita's' family were killed by Trujillo, the last when she was a young girl, anchoring her deep-seated hatred of Trujillo.
Rufino de la Cruz: The Mirabals' driver whenever they rented a car to go over the mountains to visit their husbands in prison, he was very loyal to the "butterflies", and they trusted him wholeheartedly. He was murdered along with the Mirabal girls. He has a wife and one child. It was a bitter scene.
The Port Washington School District in Port Washington, NY banned this book because it has a detailed diagram depicting how to construct a bomb. "We believe that the purpose of education is to expose students to all areas of reality so that we can make our own judgments. Isn't that why we are able to read Romeo and Juliet without committing suicide, or The Lord of the Flies without being violent? We should not ban a powerful piece of literature just because of a diagram." stated a New York Times opinion piece written by two Schreiber High School students where the book was banned.
In the Time of the Butterflies is a selection of The Big Read, the National Endowment for the Arts' community-wide reading program, and of "Readers Round Table"(Algonquin).
Connection to historical events
The idea behind In the Time of the Butterflies originated in the 1960s when author Julia Alvarez was in the Dominican Republic. The Mirabal sisters had been murdered just three months after their father got involved with the underground against Trujillo.
A motif of the novel is the ruinous effect that dictatorship can have on a nation and its citizens, emotionally and physically. Over his 30-year reign, Trujillo killed 50,000 Haitians and Dominicans. One of the focuses of the novel was his agenda to kill or eliminate blacks who occupy three-eighths of the Island of Hispanola, while the Dominican Republic, which occupies five-eighths of the area of Hispanola- contains a population of 70% mixed background.