Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review: In the Time of the Butterflies

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez is the book that my Relief Society bookclub is reading for this month. It is a historical fiction about a family (particularly the sisters) who helped start a revolution that eventually overthrew the dictator of the Dominican Republic. A brief historical summery can be found here: Wikipedia.

I think this book was great for our bookclub because it centers around the Mirabel sisters, who were an important symbol of the movement, as well as extremely brave activists. They were called "Las Mariposas," which I guess means "butterflies" in Spanish - hence the title.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. It's a fairly easy read, but very interesting. I think that the dictator, Trujillo, and the struggle of the Dominicans is a largely forgotten part of history (I only know of it because I've read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz). The majority of the novel concentrates on the relationships between the sisters, but also about the sisters as wives, daughters, in-laws, mothers, etc., even their relationships to God and their beloved country. They learn much about themselves and grow, especially as they get older and the rebellious movement picks up. I think the women are largely fascinating because even though they married young in a patriarchal society where their husbands and fathers had the final say and they were expected to just raise children, they are extremely independent and strong. Their involvement in the revolutionary movement is often alongside their husbands or they joined after their husbands did, but they have roles separate from their husbands. Their reasons were separate from their husbands. They were seen as just as much of a threat to Trujillo, if not more of one.

What I didn't like about the novel was that it was easy to mix up the timelines and some of the sister's husbands. The sisters themselves were distinct enough that they were easy to keep straight, but I could never remember who was married to who.

Some bookclub questions:

  1. Why did the Dominican people choose to call the Mirabel sisters "the butterflies"? What is the significance of that particular symbol?
  2. How were the Mirabel sisters strong outside of their activism? 
  3. How did their gender influence this story?
  4. In what way were these women "nurturers"?
  5. What did this novel teach you about relationships?
  6. When did the sisters grow in this novel?
  7. Where in the novel could you relate to the characters or their situations?
  8. What did this novel teach you about sacrifice?
  9. What about their setting is similar to ours? Do we share some of those cultural aspects (such as religion, emphasis on family, etc.)?

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