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In the Time of the Butterflies
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99 of 102 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2000
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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131 of 139 people found the following review helpful
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.
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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2001
Julia Alvarez does a brilliant job blending fact and fiction. The story of the Mirabal sisters is brought to life by Alvarez's extraordinary style of writing. I just can't find the right words to describe this book. It kept me on the edge of my seat, unable to put it down, wanting to read more and more. At times it is humorous and delightful, at others sad and horrific.
It is written from the perspective of each sister: the pious and religious Patria (the oldest), the strong and fiesty Minerva (I love her best), the sensitive yet willful Maria Theresa, and Dede - the one who lived. The one who realized her strength and independence despite her doubts. Even though it is Dede who was not killed in the ambush on "the lonely mountain road," it is really all four women who are survivors; Patria, Mate, and Minerva lost their lives, yet their spirits and their courage live on. Through Dede they live on. Perhaps that is why she was not killed - to live to tell her sisters' stories as well as her own. Dede has always wondered why she escaped death, why she wasn't killed; interviewers always ask her that, yet she does not know why. But I believe that is the reason: she could tell their story.
It is interesting how different and diverse the four sisters' personalities are, yet I see a bit of each one in every woman. Patria, the hopeful; Minerva, the feminist; Maria Theresa, the giver; and Dede, the unsure yet strong.
What's more I learned of the dictator Trujillo and what was like to have lived under his regime. I never knew about him, never even heard of him until I read this book. This made me want to read and learn more not only about the Mirabal sisters, but about Trujillo ("El Jefe"). I love to read a book of fiction and learn about historical events - about people who actually existed and made a difference despite everything going against them. I learned of a period of history in a country that I knew nothing about (The Dominican Republic [I wonder why it's called that?] as well as a dictator I never heard of. For that, I thank Julia Alvarez.
This is one of the best books I have ever read, and I recommend it highly for everyone - men and women, Dominican and non-Dominican, young and old. It is an inspiring read.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2000
Based on actual events, "In the Time of the Butterflies," is a tragic look at the four Mirabal sisters and their struggle to bring an end to the tyrannical regime of the Dominican Republic's most notorious dictator, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Known for his ruthlessness and his ability to make his political enemies disappear without a trace, Trujillo's regime was one of the most brutal in Latin American history.
After taking over the country with the assistance of the military, Trujillo began a campaign of making himself somewhat of a demigod, even renaming the nation's capital from Santo Domingo to Ciudad Trujillo ("Trujillo City"). During this time, four sisters unified the Dominican resistance in trying to bring freedom and justice to that nation. While their husbands suffered in the nation's worst prison, the Mirabal sisters face uncertain perils and repression from Trujillo's henchmen.
While the author doesn't really discuss the main reason for Trujillo's infatuation with one of the sisters, their story is one of the most memorable cases of human rights abuses on record. Trujillo, son of biracial parents, never was accepted into traditional Dominican society due to his skin color. In a country where race plays a very important role in your social standing, this was a slap to the face, and after meeting one of the Mirabal sisters before his ascent to power, and getting rejected by her, it seems like the main motives for their murders was primarily for vengeance.
Told from the point of view of the only sister to survive the accident that claimed the lives of the other three, Dede's view is somewhat blurry to an extent. Seeing that some of the novel has fictional dialogue, it is understandable why the novel moves in a slow, yet respectful approach.
Julia Alvarez, who also wrote "Yo!" and "How the Garcia Sisters Lost Their Accents" is probably the best writer to come out of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean in recent years. A resident of Vermont, Ms. Alvarez is an intelligent, well-researched woman who has given the world works that explore the trials and tribulations faced by many Dominicans on and off the island.
The Mirabal sister's legacy has been remembered worldwide. The date three of the sisters died now has become the United Nation's "International Day Against Violence Towards Women." Also in an ironic twist, one of Dede's sons became Vice-President of the Dominican Republic in 1995 when he and presidential candidate Leonel Fernandez defeated incumbent Joaquin Balaguer in that year's elections. Joaquin Balaguer was Trujillo's protege and right-hand man, and it was at Balaguer's insistance that Trujillo be buried at Paris' Pere LaChaise cemetery (final resting place of "Doors" singer Jim Morrison and author Oscar Wilde) in order to prevent his grave's desecration.
Presently, Mexican superstar Salma Hayek has purchased the rights to this novel, and is currently filming the story of the Mirabal sisters into a motion picture that will air on the Showtime cable network in 2001. Hopefully, Ms. Hayek's film will capture the importance of Ms. Alvarez's novel without leaving out any details. Overall, "In the Time of the Butterflies" is a tragic, yet moving tribute to four heroes and their struggle for liberty in a country where justice, equality, and democracy are all threatened.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
In the Time of the Butterflies is political history rendered read through fiction format and through the gifted poetic, lyrical writing of what we can now claim as a national treasure: Julia Alvarez.
The Mirabel sisters, born into a conservative and pious Catholic extended family, were martyred during the last days of Trujillo's dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. The book chronicles their movement, over time, from the pampered bosom of an upper-class family into the cause of revolution. Alvarez, having lived it herself, captures the atmosphere of what it's like to live in a police state, in which the population exists under the threat of atrocities and horror that dare not be acknowledged. As the sisters' fervor turns to tragedy, Alvarez writes movingly of their courageous desperation.
Mesmerizing, and as the end of this book approaches, you know what's coming and don't want to read it. I found myself kind of looking out the corner of my eye at the page, reading only half a page at a time, putting it aside, reading again...
Spectacular accomplishment.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2000
In the Time of the Butterflies is a fictional account(based on facts) of a revolutionary period in the Dominican Republic. The author acknowledges that she had to create a lot of the story based on a small amount of information she learned. The story is told from the point of view of the four Mirabal sisters. It takes you through their childhood, schooling, and their maturing into women of purpose, who dedicated their lives to their families and to their country. The characterizations of the sisters were a bit too simplistic, but still the story of their lives, dreams and desires was very well done. The story begins from the point of view of the surviving sister, Dede. Her feelings about being the survivor were excruciating and so honest that I find it hard to think that the author did not get these portions of the story directly from Dede. The story wraps itself in and out of the sisters lives, and is laced with religious faith and family strength, and sisterly bonds that can never be wrenched apart.
The portrayal of Trujillo, the dictator, was chilling and vivid as far as it went. The torture and disappearing of people was also clearly portrayed for the horror that it was. This is an excellent story and gives a realistic, although fictionalized picture of a turbulent period in the political and social structure of the Dominican Republic.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 1998
Julia Alvarez's fictionalization of the lives of the Mirabel sisters--real-life revolutionaries whose murders are memorialized every year in the Caribbean--will stay with you long after you put this book down. The book spans several decades and is divided into first-person narratives by the four very different sisters; the first part of the book chronicals their growth from girls into young women, and eventually into (sometimes reluctant) revolutionaries. These early "development" sections can be slow, even excruciating, at times, but pay their dividend later, when we truly know how and why these very ordinary, down-to-earth people resist an overwhelming and oppressive regime. The second half of the book gripped me hard; I couldn't put it down for 2 days, until I'd read the last sordid details about the inevitable murder of 3 of the 4 sisters. I'm not the crying type, but this book almost got me misty. I'll definitely read more by this author.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 13, 2004
My introduction to Julia Alvarez's work was her brilliant, humorous and poignant book, "How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents." "In the Time of the Butterflies" is just as compelling and gives new insight into 1950s and 1960s politics and oppression in the Dominican Republic.

Alvarez's novel is based on the life stories of four sisters--Dede, Patria, Maria Teresa and Minerva. Three of these sisters were nicknamed "Las Mariposas" (Patria, Maria Teresa and Minerva). They were central in the uprising against the corrupt and oppressive dictatorship of President Trujillo. The beautiful, dynamic and resilient women endured imprisonment and torture in exchange for their tireless efforts to take a stand against the tapping of wires, supression of expression amongst citizens of the Dominican Republic and general scare tactics enforced by a political regime. These women ended up being killed at the hands of Trujillo's henchmen. Dede, the one sister who didn't get involved in political movements as heavily as her siblings, is the subject of many interviews and much interest expressed by visitors and fellow countrymen and women, alive after the assassination of President Trujillo.

What sets "In the Time of Butterflies" apart from other novels about social and political movements and the great people who participated in them is Julia Alvarez's sensitive, warm and touching style of interweaving the stories of the four women. Alvarez is actually a product of a Dominican family, herself, that escaped the Trujillo regime when the immigrated to the United States. Her father was actively involved in the coup to remove the violent, arrogant and lecherous Trujillo from power. Ms. Alvarez's personal knowledge of the fear and turmoil experienced by Dominican people at the hands of their oppressive government added to the believablity of this fictionalized account of three beautiful women we all ought to know more about.

Please read this book! I believe all high schools should add this to their reading list. We all should have some exposure to Latin American literature--the earlier in life, the better.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2003
I strongly recommend 'In the Time of the Butterflies' to anyone, no matter what their race, sex, or political standing. This book can serve as a warning against future political corruption, and is a great read besides. Julia Alvarez's unique style and use of symbolism are shown off incredibly in this mentally and emotionally stimulating novel.
Having not read any other books by Julia Alvarez, I cannot compare this one to her previous or following works. However, being an avid reader in general, I can say with some authority that this novel is truly unique. The use of the different perspectives of each of the girls really helps the reader to understand them as individuals. The reader gets a better understanding of them because the tone of each is so different. The somewhat distant, present-time, third person point of view (in which survivng sister Dedé is described) assists in placing the reader more in the past. The straightforward style of next-to-youngest sister Minerva's segments fits her personality, as does the symbolic, rather abstract manner of oldest sister Patria's speech. The use of a series of diary entries for youngest sister Maria Theresa is more direct, and flies straight to the heart in its simple truth.
Julia Alvarez's use of symbolism in this novel is very beautiful. When the girls started the underground, their code names were "Las Mariposas," the butterflies. Following that title, a lot of the symbolism refers to butterflies or is based on it: "She felt something big and beautiful spread its wings inside her," "He reminded her of a...boy, who...tore the wings off butterflies." And, of course, the title of the novel itself connects.
The stories of political prisoners are generally hard to hear and emotionally wrenching. I believe, however, that it's good to hear what happened and what led to it. If someone read this book and saw some similar early signs of corruption in their country, they might be able to stop it before it grows. That's why we all study history, because history does nothing but repeat itself. If we could learn from our mistakes, we would never have to deal with fascist dictators and political prisoners again.
Historically, the book itself is inaccurate, as it is a novel, a work of fiction. Julia Alvarez was hooked by the sisters' tragic story, and let it "spin off in her head," as she describes in her postscript at the end of the text. She does stay true to the story, which is the important part, but she does them a favor by actually giving them personalities. As it is, the Mirabal sisters are well known, in the Dominican Republic and beyond, but they are only known as distant martyrs who are on the same level with the divine. All one can feel for them is pity, or inspiration, and the emotion doesn't go deeper than that. But when you get to know them on a personal level, they become individuals. Real people with a story to tell, but with just as many normal things in life as you and I. This makes them more accessible and personable.
The great stories of history are the stories of the people who made that history. Alvarez has written an insightful book that shines a light on the heroism of several who gave their lives for something beyond themselves.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
What began as a dreaded required reading for AP English III, became a book that I had trouble putting down while I was reading it. Not only was it very easy to take in, but Ms. Alvarez's writing style is interesting, especially how the point of view changes from sister to sister and each one writes in her own style, i.e. addressing a diary, the reader, etc.
At first reading the first thirty pages or so of this novel I couldn't help but feel like I was reading a Women's Enertainment made for TV movie. Which I feel was deserved, by the descriptions of the emotional dillemas of these pre-pubescent girls and the use of the menstrual cycle almost became a motif throughout the story, but that put aside the tales of these different girl's and the inception of their hatred for the evil Trujillo regime is compelling and the will Minerva is inspiring.
Throughout the novel the girls not only wrestle with political idealism, but also relationships, religion and the roles that humans have in society. In the Latin American culture emphasis on family and religion is very much apparent, but some aspects of the male role in the family portrayed in the novel, is somewhat confusing to a person who was raised by United States values, one of these roles was the frequent involvement of men with other women, while they are married. Which is a turning point in the father's relationship with the girl's.
Ok, no more rambling and giving away the finer points of this novel's plot. Overall this was an excellent book about the Mirabel sister's who inspired a nation to do what is right. It is a fun read and seminally thought provoking. The only complaint I have is the somewhat cheesy dialogue between the sister's and other characters, and the depiction of the male and female's role in latin american society seems rather unrealistic.
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