BOOKS REMAINING: 24
CURRENT BOOK: In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
Up through the first half, The List has contained plenty of Black authors and Black culture, and not that I’m complaining about that, but I can’t recall Hispanic or Asian authors or culture being featured. At this halfway point, all of that has changed.
Semi-related: My husband and I were trying to learn to speak Spanish recently, for a cruise we are planning. I took French back in high school and college with the intention of traveling to Europe — eventually. In hindsight, I suppose Spanish would have been more useful. C’est la vie. Anyway, I was arguably more successful than my husband. He’s an engineer. He’s perfectly intelligent. He can crunch numbers and organize data and all of that, all day long. But he even struggled with English back in school, so languages are not his strong point. We tried listening to one of those audio CD programs on long drives. He tried but he got frustrated with it (made worse by the fact that I was catching on quicker) and we haven’t pursued it as I would have liked.
Anyway, I found In the Time of the Butterflies to be an engrossing novel with a setting that was overlooked as far as my education as far as history went (one semester of Western Civ and done!) Based on the true story of sisters in the Dominican Republic who were part of the resistance against the dictatorial regime — “butterflies” refers to their code name — and became local legends, the author’s intention was to give the human story behind the sisters, albeit fictionalized. In this, she succeeded. I have been meaning to do some research on Wikipedia to read the true story of the sisters and the dictator they were opposing, but have not had a chance yet.
The novel is told through each of the sister’s alternating viewpoints, allowing the reader to hear each sister’s voice and get a sense of each sister’s personality and the distinctions between them. Alvarez does this in a skillful way that enables the reader to easily follow the story despite the narrative shifts. Throughout the strife they face, and although they don’t always agree with one another, the sisters maintain strong bonds with one another. For me, all of this stayed at the forefront of the novel, more so than the plot involving the sisters’ efforts against the government.
Having had a very different, “postcard” type viewpoint of the Dominican Republic through a friend from high school I reconnected with on Facebook, who lived there for a time to teach at a medical school, this novel did not even touch on the country’s natural beauty and instead provided a look at the darker things that lay under the surface.