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In the Time of the Butterflies

It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their deaths as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas—“The Butterflies.”

In this extraordinary novel, the voices of all four sisters—Minerva, Patria, María Teresa, and the survivor, Dedé—speak across the decades to tell their own stories, from hair ribbons and secret crushes to gunrunning and prison torture, and to describe the everyday horrors of life under Trujillo’s rule. Through the art and magic of Julia Alvarez’s imagination, the martyred Butterflies live again in this novel of courage and love, and the human cost of political oppression. 

From the author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents comes this tale of courage and sisterhood set in the Dominican Republic during the rise of the Trujillo dictatorship. A skillful blend of fact and fiction, In the Time of the Butterflies is inspired by the true story of the three Mirabal sisters who, in 1960, were murdered for their part in an underground plot to overthrow the government. Alvarez breathes life into these historical figures–known as “las mariposas,” or “the butterflies,” in the underground–as she imagines their teenage years, their gradual involvement with the revolution, and their terror as their dissentience is uncovered.

Alvarez’s controlled writing perfectly captures the mounting tension as “the butterflies” near their horrific end. The novel begins with the recollections of Dede, the fourth and surviving sister, who fears abandoning her routines and her husband to join the movement. Alvarez also offers the perspectives of the other sisters: brave and outspoken Minerva, the family’s political ringleader; pious Patria, who forsakes her faith to join her sisters after witnessing the atrocities of the tyranny; and the baby sister, sensitive Maria Teresa, who, in a series of diaries, chronicles her allegiance to Minerva and the physical and spiritual anguish of prison life.

In the Time of the Butterflies is an American Library Association Notable Book and a 1995 National Book Critics Circle Award nominee.

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  • ISBN13: 9781565129764
  • Condition: New
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Tags: Butterflies, trujillo dictatorship, rafael leonidas trujillo, Time, julia alvarez


  1. Alan Cambeira "author of Azucar's Trilogy" says:

    A Literary Challenge By means of the sharpened scalpel of fiction, Julia Alvarez carves and shapes the central characters in this difficult and delicate novel as subversive agents who see themselves obligated by fate to participate in the ultimate demise of an oppressive regime. Minerva, Patria, María Teresa, and Dedé, each one in her distinct fashion, break through the tyrannical grip that holds sway over an entire island population for thirty-one nightmarish years. Alvarez is at her absolute best here, far surpassing the previously successful HOW THE GARCÍA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS. Even the more recent SALOMÉ, in my view, doesn’t come across as powerfully (especially for those readers unfamiliar with Dominican cultural history). IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES is a masterful work that illustrates the perniciousness of political oppression in every aspect of a society, written in a language of turbulent calmness. As a Dominican myself who experienced first hand the unspeakable horrors of the Trujillo Dictatorship, I admit honestly that Alvarez has presented brilliantly the case of repression and heroism more formidably than any other writer. She has officially immortalized las hermanas Mirabal as national heroines.

  2. Adria P. Chizmar says:

    I also lived Trujillo As a Dominican who lived under Trujillo’s dictatorship until his ovethrowing in 1961, I was very taken by Ms. Alvarez’ book. Her portrayal of Dominican family life is accurate and lifelike. I remember the trial for the murder of the Mirabal sisters–it was the first televised trial in the history of the D.R. I am also a niece by marriage of General Federico Fiallo who is portrayed in the book, and although as an adult I know he committed heinous crimes under Trujillo’s orders, I also want to say that in his private life he was a kind man to his nieces and nephews. He committed suicide when they came to arrest him at his home. All around me when I was a child was the specter of Trujillo and his spies and enforcers. The terror we citizens endured was quite real although we managed to live normal everyday lives. His hand was everywhere. Ms. Alvarez book put into perspective many things that from the point of view of a child you see but fail to digest.

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