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