lunes, 9 de febrero de 2009

In the Time of the Butterflies

In the Time of the Butterflies (Plume paperback, 1995)
by Julia Alvarez
USA, 1994

Have you ever seen a really bad movie about a totally interesting subject? If so, you'll probably be able to relate to my frustrations while reading this mid-'90s historical fiction bestseller. To be fair, there were certain things I liked about the book. The U.S.-born/República Dominicana-raised Alvarez is a decent enough storyteller, and the subject matter--the lives of the four Mirabal sisters who became resistance leaders in the time of Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo's oppressive regime--is certainly deserving of a wider audience. Structurally, I admired the author's ambition in letting each sister tell her own story via diary entries, flashbacks, etc. I also enjoyed the vaivén between the past and the present during the 60-year sweep of the narrative. On the down side, I never really connected with the idea that there were four distinct narrators here. Alvarez' intricate attempt at a chorus approach notwithstanding, I found In the Time of the Butterflies rather clumsy in this regard--presenting types rather than differentiated characters and artificial rather than convincing dialogue. Although less problematic, I was also taken aback by Alvarez' apparent fixation with almost all of her protagonists' menstrual cycles. I imagine her aim was to present the sisters as "real women" in addition to heroines, but the amount of space dedicated to the topic was disconcerting: one minute I'd be reading a so-so novel about a brutal dictator, and the next I'd be reading Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret! Not really the way I wanted to end this review nor the way I wanted to start the Latin American Reading Challenge. Rating: 2.5/5 stars. (http://www.penguin.com/)

Julia Alvarez

7 comentarios:

  1. Hi Richard, I haven't read the book but to me it sounds very interesting and four distinct narrators, too. Thanks for reminding me of Penguins. In the seventies I read - at the maternity hospital - Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad. I still think it was the best book ever. I also had a Latin American books period, reading Neruda and Manuel Puig, Jorge Amado, Jorge Luis Borges. Another time I read Jewish writers a lot. The only literature that I have not much frequented is that of Russia, maybe my country's history has got something to do with the dismay. Nowadays poor eyesight prevents me from reading, and lack of concentration, old age. Blogs are more interesting. Catedral del mar is still waiting for me:-( At least the days are growing longer here very fast now - more daylight, so there is hope! Salut!

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  2. That's too bad! I had this one in my pool of potentials for the Latin American challenge, but now I'll leave it towards the bottom.

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  3. *Merike: Unfortunately, I liked the concept of the book more than the end result. However, I may be in the minority with that opinion since the book was a bestseller AND a nominee for a National Book Critics Circle Award (kind of a big deal award over here) when it came out. While I'm sorry to hear about your eyesight, I enjoyed hearing about your different reading phases over the years. It sounds like you read a lot of great stuff! I still have "Catedral del mar" waiting for me, too, so we'll have to compare notes on that book when we get around to it. Take care!

    *Eva: Yeah, I was very disappointed. I'll give Alvarez another try someday b/c I have a copy of her "How the García Girls Lost Their Accents," but I don't see that happening anytime soon now. Win some, lose some, I guess. See ya!

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  4. Sorry to hear that the challenge got off to a bad start, hopefully the other books you read for the challenge will be more rewarding.

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  5. No worries, Katrina. I'm already a fan of all the authors on my challenge list, so I don't expect any other disappointments anytime soon. Cheers!

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  6. INterestingly, your comment: "presenting types rather than differentiated characters and artificial rather than convincing dialogue" was exactly what I felt with this author's other book, How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents. I thought this one would be much better, having a more "mature" theme. I guess it wasn't in the subject matter at all, but in the writer. I was really hoping to like that book. Well, I liked it in a way, as I thought there were far more worse books I've read than that, but still not very much.

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  7. Claire, how funny that we had such a similar reaction to different books by the same author! I have a used copy of that other book you mention, but I doubt I'll be able to convince myself to give it a chance until sometime next year. Ironically, I was so put off by "Butterflies" that I postponed reading Mario Vargas Llosa's "The Feast of the Goat" until very recently only because it also concerns the Trujillo dictatorship. What a mistake: the Vargas Llosa novel is excellent! Cheers!

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