In the last days of the Trujillo dictatorship of the Dominican Republic in the 1960’s, a jeep containing the bodies of three sisters known as “las mariposas,” or “the butterflies,” was found at the bottom of a steep cliff. The three sisters were revolutionaries who were committed to the overthrow of Trujillo, and they were murdered by the regime. In the Time of the Butterflies tells the story of the lives of the three sisters, and their surviving sister Dede.
The novel begins with the young girlhood of Patria, Minerva, Maria Terese (Mate), and Dede Mirabal, narrated by each girl in turn. As life under the regime becomes more difficult and the sisters grow older, one by one they become radicalized until they and their husbands are actively taking part in an underground movement working toward a revolution. The novel depicts their lives in prison and the final days when their husbands are moved to a new prison precisely so the sisters will be forced to drive up that fateful road to visit them.
The novel certainly is interesting and kept my attention, but it was vague in a way that is difficult to describe. I think it assumes a larger knowledge than I have of the state of affairs in the Dominican Republic at that time. Ironically, I also feel as if it downplays the acts of the regime. In my investigations after reading the novel, I learned that the Trujillo regime was responsible for the murders of many people, but the book was not effective in conveying that or the other atrocities committed by the government. Reviews of the book remark that it captures the terror of the time under the regime, but that is exactly what I feel is lacking.