Time of the Butterflies

In the world of historical fiction, there are few new and innovative writers, and not often are new styles
developed. In the styles of Leon Uris and James Michener, two prolific modern historical fiction novelists,
usually the main characters are chronicled over a short period of time in their lives, and their feelings are
used only to outline the political matters they are surrounded by. In the Time of the Butterflies is a new
breed of this genre, in that it closely follows the four Mirabal sisters from their early childhood up until the
very end, and how the tyranny of the Dominican dictator Ra?l Trujillo affected their family. Julia Alvarez,
an American of Dominican descent, wrote the novel from the point of view of all four sisters at different
times, even using Ded? Mirabal?s point of view in 1994, when she was interviewed by Alvarez for
information.
Minerva, Maria Teresa, and Patria Mirabal were killed, with their driver Rufino de la Cruz, on November
25, 1960 as a result of their underground opposition to the rule of Trujillo. In the Time of the Butterflies
follows these sisters and the sister that was not killed that day, Ded?, from their time in grammar school.
Upon hearing horrible stories about Trujillo and his government, each sister except Ded? get involved in
the secret resistance to Trujillo and the SIM, a group of guards similar to a secret police. The sisters have
various encounters with the dictator, the last after being in jail for seven months. However, much of the
novel is filled with happiness and light-hearted feelings among all the characters.
The novel is divided into four parts; there are three main parts and an epilogue. The first two parts are,
with the exception of the sisters? father?s death, all about the joyful childhood the sisters had, which
ironically makes the story all the more sad. These parts describe the girls? time at boarding school, and
later their various courtships and becoming aligned against Trujillo, all exciting times for the girls. The
second two parts of the book concentrate on the sisters? time in jail and the time at which Trujillo and the
SIM?s power went out of control. This is where the family becomes an actual target of the government.
Trujillo himself even allegedly said, ?My only two problems are the damn church and the Mirabal sisters.?
(51)
Had In the Time the Butterflies been written like ordinary contemporary historical fiction novels, it
wouldn?t have half its power. The beauty of the novel is the unbelievable emotional effect it has on a
reader, combined with the fantastic conveying of the actual terror of Trujillo?s historic reign. A Michener
or Uris novel might extraordinarily document a political regime or event, but leave the reader little in the
way of emotion or passion; in comparison, works of any other genre generally aren?t beneficial to the
reader for historical value, but could be a masterpiece of feeling.
A typical critic would be hard-pressed to find a novel comparable to In the Time of the Butterflies in
emotional effect and historical significance. Alvarez is a fantastic writer and can bring many a reader to
tears, but the emotional effect can be a bit much for such a book. However, it is a true story, and to make it
bland enough to not be as powerful as it is would be a travesty.