Posts Tagged Novel

Book Review: In The Time of Butterflies

This novel by Julia Alvarez was a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read selection. From the book blurb:

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 death 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.

This novel is based upon a real incident which happened four months after Alvarez’s family escaped to New York. The Mirabel sisters, known as Las Mariposas, were members of the underground resistance, along with Alvarez’s father. In her notes at the back of the novel, Alvarez says: “When as a young girl I heard about the “accident, I could not get the Mirabels out of my mind. On my frequent trips back to the Dominican Republic, I sought out whatever information I could about these brave sisters who had done what few men and only a handful of women—had been Julia-Alvarezwilling to do.” She took what she found and began to invent the characters which fill these pages.

Alvarez tells the story from the point of view of each of the four sisters, devoting alternating chapters to each. We start in 1994, with the surviving sister, Dedé, meeting a journalist who wishes to interview her about her sisters. Then we drop into the past. Dedé is a little girl living on a farm with her family. We meet the fierce middle sister, Minerva, who wants to be a lawyer, the religious oldest sister, Patria, and the shy youngest, María Teresa. Their lives seem peaceful, their father becoming prosperous. Like many girls, Minerva and Patria are sent to Catholic boarding school, where Minerva pushes the boundaries along with her girlfriends and Patria becomes ever more religious. Dedé stays home to help her papa with his store.

However, the brutal Trujillo’s dictatorship soon changes everything. Minerva and her friends, chosen to perform a skit for Trujillo, change it to make a political statement in front of him. Trujillo, known for taking pretty teenagers as mistresses, sets his sights on the beautiful Minerva. Inviting her family to a ball, he tries to claim her, but she manages to escape. From then on, the intrigue builds, yet in between the political, the sisters grow up, falling in love, having their children, and interacting with their aging parents. Their marriages have their very real ups and down.

I loved this novel. The language is rich, the descriptions beautiful, and the four sisters’ voices come across clear and distinct. I felt as if I was right there. I loved the way Alvarez combined the intimate with the political, reminding us that all warriors have parents, many have spouses and children, and every choice they make has to be weighed against the risk to those they love. I give it five stars out of five.

Note: A Wikipedia page about the Mirabel sisters states that the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is November 25 in honor of the three brave sisters who were assassinated Nov 25, 1960.

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Rain and cold

The past couple of weeks we’ve had snow, rain, fog, freezing fog, and sun. High temperatures have ranged from 30°F to nearly 60°F. This is Central Oregon, after all. It’s high desert, where the weather seems to vary with the direction of the wind, especially this time of year.  Still, I’m not used to this damp cold, with the high and low temps almost identical at 28-32 °F for days on end. It’s almost worse than the cold spell we had in November that froze a lot of people’s pipes, the way it eats into my blood and leaves me shivering.rainy day window

Golden Threads is set in North Yorkshire. I have never been there, but I’ve been to England several times and Scotland once, and it’s usually been damp and rainy (Edinburgh wasn’t, but it sure rained on the tour bus up to Loch Lomand).

I spent a month in London many years ago and felt chilled and slightly damp almost the entire time. The skies only cleared two or three days (I remember that well, because I managed to sunburn badly). Otherwise, the weather varied between overcast with drizzle, overcast with hard rain, and overcast without rain, all hovering around 50°F. I huddled in my rented cottage with the heat on, drinking tea when I wasn’t out exploring (I was on a business trip, but my ‘host’ hardly made time to meet with me the entire month).

So I imagine England this way: damp and chilly but extremely green.

The next chapter of Golden Threads awaits your reading pleasure. It’s called Rainy Days. Earlier chapters are linked on the Golden Threads page. I love comments.

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