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 ery end, and how the tyranny of the Dominican dictator Ral 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 Mirabals 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 ollows 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 fathers 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 SIMs 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.
Had In the Time the Butterflies been written like ordinary contemporary historical fiction novels, it wouldnt 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 Trujillos historic reign. A Michener or Uris novel might extraordinarily document a political regime or event, but leave the reader little in the ay of emotion or passion; in comparison, works of any other genre generally arent 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.