Fight of the Mirabal sisters – a review of ‘In the Time of the Butterflies’

“What was more important, romance or revolution?”

I feel ashamed that I’d never heard of the Mirabal sisters before. I am so happy that this book introduced them to me, and now I feel it’s my duty to convince as many people as I can to read it. In the Time of the Butterflies, is a novel written by Julia Alvarez, published in 1994. The story is a fictionalised historical account of the Mirabal sisters (Patria, Dedé, Minerva, and María Teresa) who were involved in the resistance against the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic during the 1950s. Exploring themes of political oppression, resistance, sisterhood, and feminism, this book left me both traumatised and inspired at the same time.

The book’s structure was flawless, with each of the Mirabal sisters having their own unique perspectives. The story starts with Dede, the only surviving sister, as she recounts the events which led up to the deaths of her sisters. She looks back at the earlier years of their lives, exploring their childhood, school years, and future aspirations. As they mature, the oppressive regime of Trujillo and the political climate of the Dominican Republic become more apparent and prominent in their lives. Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa all join the underground resistance, facing multiple setbacks and challenges along the way.

“The entire plot was just so powerful and by the end I felt that I truly knew who the ‘Butterflies’ were on such a personal level”

The story doesn’t just end with their brutal assassinations on November 25th 1960, but instead focuses on the survivor, Dede, and her feelings of shame and guilt of surviving the tragedy. The entire plot was just so powerful and by the end I felt that I truly knew who the ‘Butterflies’ were on such a personal level.

Patria Mirabal is the eldest sister and is portrayed as deeply religious and spiritual. Her chapters often deal with her committing herself to both God and her family. The progression of both her maternal instincts and her revolutionary spirit, were an interesting combination to see grow. Her personal transformation, from a reserved girl to a selfless woman, was inspiring to read about and her ultimate sacrifice at the end contributed to the overall devastating impact of the novel.

Dede Mirabel is the second oldest sister and offers a very unique perspective of the story, being the sole survivor of the tragedy. While her sisters joined the underground resistance against Trujillo, Dede chose to remain cautious in order to guarantee the protection of her family. Her internal struggles and survivor’s guilt are explored throughout the novel, and it is very difficult not to sympathise with her moral and ethical dilemmas. Though she did not get actively involved in the fight against Trujillo, her refusal to conform and her bravery to tell her sisters’ story creates a different form of defiance: an individual and more quiet form.

Minerva Mirabel is the third oldest sister and is possibly the most politically active of them all. Minerva is the symbol of resistance, challenging traditional gender roles and making personal sacrifices for the greater good. She is the most committed of the sisters, encouraging many people to join the resistance and fight for their freedom. Her dedication to overthrow Trujillo remains strong and passionate throughout the novel, even when she finds herself imprisoned for her actions.

María Teresa Mirabel (sometimes referred to as Mate) is the youngest of the Mirabel sisters and the one who, in my opinion, undergoes the most personal growth in the novel. Being the youngest of the group, María Teresa’s chapters very much follow a coming-of-age narrative. Being structured as diary entries, her perspective starts as a very naïve, innocent girl. Her diary entries discuss her childhood crushes, her petty arguments with her sisters, and her experience at boarding school. As the novel develops and María Teresa matures, her diary entries start to reflect the harsh reality of Trujillo’s brutal regime as she is imprisoned and tortured for her actions.

While being a novel which heavily focuses on resistance, sacrifice, and political oppression, I absolutely loved some of the more personal themes. The sisterhood and tight bonds created between the group are particularly powerful amongst the political turmoil of the country. The novel also incorporates quite a lot of romance and the interweaving of the personal and political truly proved how much of an impact Trujillo’s rule had on the personal lives of these characters.

I honestly cannot get over how brilliant this book was, I could not recommend it more. Its historical significance, engaging narrative, and overall emotional impact had me hooked right from the get-go. There was never a dull moment, and the social and political commentary made me reflect on themes such as power, justice, freedom, and oppression. I just wish I could have learnt about the Mirabal sisters in school.


Comments (1)

  • When reading this book, I really felt attached to the sisters, almost as if I knew them! This article truly captures how it feels to read such an emotional and thrilling book! 🙂

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