Unformatted text preview: Praise for In the Time of the Butterflies
"Wonderful . . . Skillfully weaves fact and fiction, building to a gutwrenching climax."
"Haunting . . . Full of pathos and passion." —The Nation "A gorgeous and sensitive novel . . . A compelling story of courage, patriotism and familial devotion."
"A fascinating and powerful picture of a family and a nation's history."
— The Dallas Morning News
"Shimmering . . . Valuable and necessary." —Los Angeles Times "A poignant tale of courage and hope . . . As much an inspiration as it
is a tragedy."
"A smashing follow-up to ... How the Garcia Girl Lost Their Accents . . .
Speaking across the years as convincingly as Anne Frank did in her
"Haunting." —Harper's Bazaar
—New Yorh Newsday "The real test of art, Leo Tolstoy said, is that it unite people . . . [Alvarez]
—The Washington Post
"Imagination and history in sublime combination . . . Read this book
for the novel it is. Read this book for the place it takes you. Read this
book and take courage."
—The Denver Post
"Compelling . . . Vivid . . . Lends humanity to history."
— The Orlando Sentinel "Alvarez has taken us somewhere we've never been . . . and moved us in
ways we did not expect."
—The San Diego Union-Tribune
"Shaped from real life and death during the violent twilight of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo's long reign of terror ... A rippling tale of
everyday life and unself-conscious heroism."
— Chicago Tribune
"Succeeds magnificently . . . Alvarez's translation of historical events
into fiction achieves, in this fine book, the nuance and irony of truth."
— The Christian Science Monitor
"Stunning . . . A book that confirms Alvarez ... as a writer of imagination, grace and power, a Latin American storyteller whose voice we need
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Her storytelling talent makes these courageous women come alive."
—Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"Fine writing, wonderful characters, and a fully realized world."
— The Boston Globe
"A triumph." —Richmond Times-Dispatch "Rich in historical detail and immensely, hauntingly lyrical... As lovely
as a butterfly at rest, and as moving as one in flight."
—Burlington Free Press
"As an artful, sensitive storyteller, Alvarez brilliantly reconstructs this
historical tale with intensity."
"Breathtaking . . . Julia Alvarez is one of our national literary treasures."
— The Oregonian "One of the notable books of this year . . . Simply, clearly, beautifully
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"A wondrous work . . . both grand and intimate . . . Breathtaking . . .
Magical . . . Certain to find its place in the classics of contemporary
— The Jackson Clarion-Ledger
"A gripping saga, one with something to say about how powerful ordinary women can become when forced into extraordinary circumstance."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"Mesmerizing." —Albuquerque Journal "A page-turner . . . Real originality, . . . sweep and subtlety."
— The Raleigh News and Observer
"A magnificent tale of courage beyond mere words, even beyond actions. It's a courage of the soul."
—The Oklahoma City Ohlahoman
"Moving, superbly crafted." —The Milwaukee Journal "A masterful work of historical fiction . . . This work, one of the finest
of its genre, is a joy to read and a fitting tribute to its subjects."
"A paean to the power of female courage ... As mesmerizing as the
Mirabal sisters themselves."
—Kirhus Reviews, starred review
"Builds to a gripping intensity . . . Alvarez conveys their courage and
their desperation, and the full import of their tragedy."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Highly recommended for its luminescence and relevance."
—Library journal, starred review "I was moved to tears, not of sadness but of joy. The sisters Mirabal continue to live as long as women like Julia Alvarez are brave enough to tell
their story ... A novel of great carino."
—Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street
"It is destined to take its place on the shelf of great Latin-American
—Rudolfo Anaya, author of Bless Me, Ultima In the Time of the Butterflies ALSO B Y J U L I A A L V A R E Z
FICTION How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents iYo!
In the Name of Salome
A Cafecito Story
Saving the World
NONFICTION Something to Declare
Once Upon a Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA
POETRY The Other Side/El Otro Lado
The Woman I Kept to Myself
How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay
Before We Were Free
The Secret Footprints
A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia
The Best Gift of All: The Legend of la Vieja Belen
Return to Sender
How Tia Lola Learned to Teach JULIA ALVAREZ In the Time
of the Butterflies Algonquin Books
of Chapel Hill 2010 Published by
ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL
Post Office Box 2225
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27515-2225
a division of
225 Varick Street
New York, New York 10014
© 1994 by Julia Alvarez.
All rights reserved.
First paperback edition, Plume, August 1995.
First Algonquin paperback, March 2010.
Originally published in hardcover by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1994.
Printed in the United States of America.
Published simultaneously in Canada by Thomas Allen & Son Limited.
Design by Barbara Williams.
This work of fiction is based on historical facts
referred to in the author's Postscript on pages 323-324.
This is a work of fiction. While, as in all fiction, the literary perceptions
and insights are based on experience, all names, characters, places, and incidents
either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
In the time of the butterflies /Julia Alvarez.
ISBN-13: 978-1-56512-038-9 (HC)
1. Mirabal, Maria Teresa, 1935-1960—Fiction.
1926-1960—Fiction. 2. Mirabal, Minerva, 3. Mirabal, Patria, 1924-1960—Fiction. 4. Dominican Republic—History—1930-1961—Fiction. 5. Women
PS3551.L845I5 I. Title. 1995 813'.54—dc20 95-8091
ISBN-13: 978-1-56512-976-4 (PB) 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 For Dedé In Memoriam
PATRIA MERCEDES MIRABAL
February 27, 1924-November 25, 1960
March 12, 1926-November 25, 1960
MARIA TERESA MIRABAL October 15, 1935-November 25, 1960 RUFINO DE LA CRUZ November 10, 1923-November 25, 1960 Contents I
Chapter One: Dedé, 1994 and circa 1943 / 3 Chapter Two: Minerva, 1938, 1941, 1944 / 11 Chapter Three: María Teresa, 1945 to 1946 /
Chapter Four: Patria, 1946 / 30 44 II
Chapter Five: Dedé, 1994 and 1948 /
Chapter Six: Minerva, 1949 / 63 84 Chapter Seven: Maria Teresa, 1953 to 1958 /
Chapter Eight: Patria, 1959 / 118 148 III
Chapter Nine: Dedé, 1994 and 1960 / 171 Chapter Ten: Patria, January to March 1960 /
Chapter Eleven: Maria Teresa, March to
August 1960 / 227
Chapter Twelve: Minerva, August to
November 25, 1960 / 257
Dedé, 1994 / 301 A Postscript I 323 200 This page intentionally left blank I
1938 to 1946 This page intentionally left blank CHAPTER ONE Dedé
he is plucking her bird of paradise of its dead branches, leaning Saround the plant every time she hears a car. The woman will never find the old house behind the hedge of towering hibiscus at the bend of
the dirt road. Not a gringa dominicana in a rented car with a road map
asking for street names! Dede had taken the call over at the little
museum this morning.
Could the woman please come over and talk to Dede about the
Mirabal sisters? She is originally from here but has lived many years in
the States, for which she is sorry since her Spanish is not so good. The
Mirabal sisters are not known there, for which she is also sorry for it is
a crime that they should be forgotten, these unsung heroines of the
underground, et cetera.
Oh dear, another one. Now after thirty-four years, the commemorations and interviews and presentations of posthumous honors have
almost stopped, so that for months at a time Dede is able to take up her
own life again. But she's long since resigned herself to Novembers. Every
year as the 25th rolls around, the television crews drive up. There's the
obligatory interview. Then, the big celebration over at the museum, the
delegations from as far away as Peru and Paraguay, an ordeal really, making that many little party sandwiches and the nephews and nieces not
always showing up in time to help. But this is March, /Maria Santisima!
Doesn't she have seven more months of anonymity?
3 Julia Alvarez "How about this afternoon? I do have a later commitment," Dede lies
to the voice. She has to. Otherwise, they go on and on, asking the most
There is a veritable racket of gratitude on the other end, and Dede
has to smile at some of the imported nonsense of this woman's Spanish.
"I am so compromised," she is saying, "by the openness of your warm
"So if I'm coming from Santiago, I drive on past Salcedo?" the woman
"Exactamente. And then where you see a great big anacahuita tree,
you turn left."
"A ... great... big ... tree . . . " the woman repeats. She is writing
all this down! "I turn left. What's the name of the street?"
"It's just the road by the anacahuita tree. We don't name them," Dede
says, driven to doodling to contain her impatience. On the back of an
envelope left beside the museum phone, she has sketched an enormous
tree, laden with flowers, the branches squirreling over the flap. "You
see, most of the campesinos around here can't read, so it wouldn't do us
any good to put names on the roads."
The voice laughs, embarrassed. "Of course. You must think I'm so
outside of things." Tan afuera de la cosa.
Dede bites her lip. "Not at all," she lies. "I'll see you this afternoon
"About what time?" the voice wants to know.
Oh yes. The gringos need a time. But there isn't a clock time for this
kind of just-right moment. "Any time after three or three-thirty, four-ish."
"Dominican time, eh?" The woman laughs.
"iExactamente!" Finally, the woman is getting the hang of how things
are done here. Even after she has laid the receiver in its cradle, Dede
goes on elaborating the root system of her anacahuita tree, shading the
branches, and then for the fun of it, opening and closing the flap of the
envelope to watch the tree come apart and then back together again.
In the garden, Dede is surprised to hear the radio in the outdoor
kitchen announce that it is only three o'clock. She has been waiting
4 In the Time of the Butterflies expectantly since after lunch, tidying up the patch of garden this American woman will be able to see from the galena. This is certainly one
reason why Dede shies from these interviews. Before she knows it, she
is setting up her life as if it were an exhibit labeled neatly for those who
can read: THE SISTER WHO SURVIVED.
Usually, if she works it right—a lemonade with lemons from the tree
Patria planted, a quick tour of the house the girls grew up in—usually
they leave, satisfied, without asking the prickly questions that have left
Dede lost in her memories for weeks at a time, searching for the answer.
Why, they inevitably ask in one form or another, why are you the one
She bends to her special beauty, the butterfly orchid she smuggled
back from Hawaii two years ago. For three years in a row Dede has won
a trip, the prize for making the most sales of anyone in her company.
Her niece Minou has noted more than once the irony of Dede's "new"
profession, actually embarked upon a decade ago, after her divorce. She
is the company's top life insurance salesperson. Everyone wants to buy
a policy from the woman who just missed being killed along with her
three sisters. Can she help it?
The slamming of a car door startles Dede. When she calms herself
she finds she has snipped her prize butterfly orchid. She picks up the
fallen blossom and trims the stem, wincing. Perhaps this is the only way
to grieve the big things—in snippets, pinches, little sips of sadness.
But really, this woman should shut car doors with less violence. Spare
an aging woman's nerves. And I'm not the only one, Dede thinks. Any
Dominican of a certain generation would have jumped at that gunshot
She walks the woman quickly through the house, Mamd's bedroom, mine
and Patria's, but mostly mine since Patria married so young, Minerva and
Maria Teresa's. The other bedroom she does not say was her father's after
he and Mama stopped sleeping together. There are the three pictures of
the girls, old favorites that are now emblazoned on the posters every
November, making these once intimate snapshots seem too famous to
be the sisters she knew.
5 Julia Alvarez Dede has placed a silk orchid in a vase on the little table below them.
She still feels guilty about not continuing Mama's tribute of a fresh blossom for the girls every day. But the truth is, she doesn't have the time
anymore, with a job, the museum, a household to run. You can't be a
modern woman and insist on the old sentimentalities. And who was
the fresh orchid for, anyway? Dede looks up at those young faces, and
she knows it is herself at that age she misses the most.
The interview woman stops before the portraits, and Dede waits for
her to ask which one was which or how old they were when these were
taken, facts Dede has at the ready, having delivered them so many times.
But instead the thin waif of a woman asks, "And where are you?"
Dede laughs uneasily. It's as if the woman has read her mind. "I have
this hallway just for the girls," she says. Over the woman's shoulder, she
sees she has left the door to her room ajar, her nightgown flung with
distressing abandon on her bed. She wishes she had gone through the
house and shut the doors to the bedrooms.
"No, 1 mean, where are you in the sequence, the youngest, the oldest?"
So the woman has not read any of the articles or biographies around.
Dede is relieved. This means that they can spend the time talking about
the simple facts that give Dede the illusion that hers was just an ordinary
family, too—birthdays and weddings and new babies, the peaks in that
graph of normalcy.
Dede goes through the sequence.
"So fast in age," the woman notes, using an awkward phrase.
Dede nods. "The first three of us were born close, but in other ways,
you see, we were so different."
"Oh?" the woman asks.
"Yes, so different. Minerva was always into her wrongs and rights."
Dede realizes she is speaking to the picture of Minerva, as if she were
assigning her a part, pinning her down with a handful of adjectives, the
beautiful, intelligent, high-minded Minerva. "And Maria Teresa, ay,
Dios," Dede sighs, emotion in her voice in spite of herself. "Still a girl
when she died, pobrecita, just turned twenty-five." Dede moves on to
the last picture and rights the frame. "Sweet Patria, always her religion
was so important."
6 In the Time of the Butterflies "Always?" the woman says, just the slightest challenge in her voice.
"Always," Dede affirms, used to this fixed, monolithic language
around interviewers and mythologizers of her sisters. "Well, almost
She walks the woman out of the house into the galena where the rocking chairs wait. A kitten lies recklessly under the runners, and she shoos
it away. "What is it you want to know?" Dede asks bluntly. And then
because the question does seem to rudely call the woman to account
for herself, she adds, "Because there is so much to tell"
The woman laughs as she says, "Tell me all of it."
Dede looks at her watch as a polite reminder to the woman that the
visit is circumscribed. "There are books and articles. I could have Tono
at the museum show you the letters and diaries."
"That would be great," the woman says, staring at the orchid Dede is
still holding in her hand. Obviously, she wants more. She looks up,
shyly. "I just have to say, it's really so easy to talk to you. I mean, you're
so open and cheerful. How do you keep such a tragedy from taking you
under? I'm not sure I am explaining myself?"
Dede sighs. Yes, the woman is making perfect sense. She thinks of an
article she read at the beauty salon, by a Jewish lady who survived a
concentration camp. "There were many many happy years. I remember
those. I try anyhow. I tell myself, Dede, concentrate on the positive! My
niece Minou tells me I am doing some transcending meditation, something like that. She took the course in the capital.
"I'll tell myself, Dede, in your memory it is such and such a day, and
I start over, playing the happy moment in my head. This is my
movies—I have no television here."
"Of course," Dede says, almost fiercely. And when it doesn't work, she
thinks, I get stuck playing the same bad moment. But why speak of that.
"Tell me about one of those moments," the woman asks, her face
naked with curiosity She looks down quickly as if to hide it.
Dede hesitates, but her mind is already racing backwards, year by
year by year, to the moment she has fixed in her memory as zero.
7 Julia Alvarez She remembers a clear moonlit night before the future began. They are
sitting in the cool darkness under the anacahuita tree in the front yard,
in the rockers, telling stories, drinking guanabana juice. Good for the
nerves, Mama always says.
They're all there, Mama, Papa, Patria-Minerva-Dede. Bang-bangbang, their father likes to joke, aiming a finger pistol at each one, as if he
were shooting them, not boasting about having sired them. Three girls,
each born within a year of the other! And then, nine years later, Maria
Teresa, his final desperate attempt at a boy misfiring.
Their father has his slippers on, one foot hooked behind the other.
Every once in a while Dede hears the clink of the rum bottle against the
rim of his glass.
Many a night, and this night is no different, a shy voice calls out of
the darkness, begging their pardon. Could they spare a calmante for a
sick child out of their stock of kindness? Would they have some tobacco
for a tired old man who spent the day grating yucca?
Their father gets up, swaying a little with drink and tiredness, and
opens up the store. The campesino goes off with his medicine, a couple of cigars, a few mints for the godchildren. Dede tells her father
that she doesn't know how they do as well as they do, the way he
gives everything away. But her father just puts his arm around her,
and says, "Ay, Dede, that's why I have you. Every soft foot needs a
"She'll bury us all," her father adds, laughing, "in silk and pearls."
Dede hears again the clink of the rum bottle. "Yes, for sure, our Dede
here is going to be the millionaire in the family."
"And me, Papa, and me?" Maria Teresa pipes up in her little girl's
voice, not wanting to be left out of the future.
"You, mi napita, you'll be our little coquette. You'll make a lot of
Their mother coughs her correcting-your-manners cough.
"—a lot of men's mouths water," their father concludes.
Maria Teresa groans. At eight years old, in her long braids and checkered blouse, the only future the baby wants is one that will make her
8 In the Time of the Butterflies own mouth water, sweets and gifts in big boxes that clatter with something fun inside when she shakes them.
"What of me, Papa?" Patria asks more quietly. It is difficult to imagine
Patria unmarried without a baby on her lap, but Dede's memory is playing dolls with the past. She has sat them down that clear, cool night
before the future begins, Mama and Papa and their four pretty girls, no
one added, no one taken away. Papa calls on Mama to help him out
with his fortune-telling. Especially—though he doesn't say this—if
she's going to censor the clairvoyance of his several glasses of rum.
"What would you say, Mama, about our Patria?"
"You know, Enrique, that I don't believe in fortunes," Mama says
evenly. "Padre Ignacio says fortunes are for those without faith." In her
mother's tone, Dede can already hear the distance that will come
between her parents. Looking back, she...
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