This, right here, is why I needed to do this project.
Set in the beautiful Dominican Republic in the Caribbean, this country has known its fair share of violence over the years. Ruled by a nasty dictator named Rafael Trujillo from 1930-1961, many citizens of the Dominican Republic secretly became members of a rebellion meant to overthrow the dictator and return the country to a democracy. Trujillo was known for his human rights abuses, including the massacre of an estimated 20,000 neighboring Haitians.
The book follows the story of the Mirabal sisters, Patria Mirabal, Minerva Mirabal, and Maria Teresa Mirabal, who joined the rebellion with their husbands and helped to smuggle weapons and information. They were known by their code name Butterflies.
(If you don’t know the story of the Mirabal sisters, you should REALLY read this book).
So, from the beginning of the book we know that a fourth sister, Dedé Mirabal, is the only surviving member of her family – although it’s not said why. This book was written while the real Dedé was still alive (she passed in 2014), and a lot of the story is told through her “memories.” I say “memories,” in quotes, because Alvarez is using magical realism to tell the entire story. And though the entire story is true, it would not quite be fair to say that it is nonfiction, due to the amount of detail that Alvarez uses. Instead, she bases her story in fact, and then imagines “what it must have been like,” and fills in the blanks with the information we do have. Historical fiction might be a more accurate term, though nearly everything that happens in the book really happened in real life, as far as we know.
One of my favorite quotes is from one of Dedé’s “memories,” as she recalls what it was like when her family was still together on a summer evening:
“But all I hear is my own breathing and the blessed silence of those cool, clear nights under the anacahuita tree before anyone breathes a word of the future. And I see them all there in my memory, as still as statues, Mama and Papa, and Minerva and Mate and Patria, and I’m thinking something is missing now. And I count them all twice before I realize- it’s me, Dedé, it’s me, the one who survived to tell the story.”
In my mind, I can so clearly picture myself as Dedé, looking at her family from the outside. The weird thing with magical realism is that it is SO BEAUTIFUL and yet SO SAD all at once. It has this odd way of grabbing you and forcing you to pay attention because everything is just so tragic and beautiful. In a way, it’s almost too much like real life: acknowledging both the sadness and the beauty of the world. Sometimes you’re moved by the sadness but uplifted by the beauty. And other times, the beauty makes the sadness that much more painful.
I really and truly loved this book, and am so glad I read it. This is one of those books that I kind of never shut up about to my friends 🙂
Also, I’ll admit that I am a little ashamed that I literally had no idea any of this had happened, when the Dominican Republic is really not that far away from the US – and the US had quite a bit of involvement with the Dominican Republic at various points, including occupying the country twice. I really find it shameful that something that happened that close to home within my parent’s lifetime was something that was never even mentioned in school, or at home, or even in college.
This is why I’m doing this project, guys. I am a better person for knowing this story; for having read this book. Read on!