The Novel~Tea Book Club discussion

Book Club Picks > MARCH 2011: In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Novel Tea Book Club (last edited Feb 14, 2011 01:40PM) (new)

Novel Tea Book Club  (NovelTeaBookClubModerator) | 38 comments Mod
The March 2011 NTBC book choice is:

In the Time of the Butterflies
by Julia Alvarez

We meet March 9, 2011 to discuss this book.


From the author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents comes this tale of courage and sisterhood set in the Dominican Republic during the rise of the Trujillo dictatorship. A skillful blend of fact and fiction, In the Time of the Butterflies is inspired by the true story of the three Mirabal sisters who, in 1960, were murdered for their part in an underground plot to overthrow the government. Alvarez breathes life into these historical figures--known as "las mariposas," or "the butterflies," in the underground--as she imagines their teenage years, their gradual involvement with the revolution, and their terror as their dissentience is uncovered.

Alvarez's controlled writing perfectly captures the mounting tension as "the butterflies" near their horrific end. The novel begins with the recollections of Dede, the fourth and surviving sister, who fears abandoning her routines and her husband to join the movement. Alvarez also offers the perspectives of the other sisters: brave and outspoken Minerva, the family's political ringleader; pious Patria, who forsakes her faith to join her sisters after witnessing the atrocities of the tyranny; and the baby sister, sensitive Maria Teresa, who, in a series of diaries, chronicles her allegiance to Minerva and the physical and spiritual anguish of prison life.

In the Time of the Butterflies is an American Library Association Notable Book and a 1995 National Book Critics Circle Award nominee.

message 2: by Kokeshi (last edited Mar 16, 2011 02:46PM) (new)

Kokeshi | 48 comments Julia Alvarez (born March 27, 1950) is a Dominican-American poet, novelist, and essayist. Born in New York of Dominican descent, she spent the first ten years of her childhood in the Dominican Republic, until her father's involvement in a political rebellion forced her family to flee the country.

Alvarez rose to prominence with the novels How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), In the Time of the Butterflies (1994), and Yo! (1997). Her publications as a poet include The Housekeeping Book (1984) and The Woman I Kept to Myself (2004), and as an essayist the autobiographical compilation Something to Declare (1998). Many literary critics regard her to be one of the most significant Latina writers, and she has achieved critical and commercial success on an international scale.

Many of Alvarez's works are influenced by her experiences as a Dominican in the United States, and focus heavily on issues of assimilation and identity. Her cultural upbringing as both a Dominican and an American is evident in the combination of personal and political tone in her writing. She is known for works that examine cultural expectations of women both in the Dominican Republic and the United States, and for rigorous investigations of cultural stereotypes. In recent years, Alvarez has expanded her subject matter with works such as In the Name of Salomé (2000), a novel with Cuban rather than solely Dominican characters and fictionalized versions of historical figures.

In addition to her successful writing career, Alvarez is the current writer-in-residence at Middlebury College.


Early life and education

Julia Alvarez was born in 1950 in New York City to Michael and Hester Alvarez. When she was three months old, her family moved to the Dominican Republic, where they lived for the next ten years. She grew up with her extended family in sufficient comfort to enjoy the services of maids. Critic Silvio Sirias believes that Dominicans value a talent for story-telling; Alvarez developed this talent early and was "often called upon to entertain guests". In 1960, the family was forced to flee to the United States after her father participated in a failed plot to overthrow the island's military dictator, Rafael Trujillo - circumstances which would later be revisited in her writing. Her novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, for example, portrays a family that is forced to leave the Dominican Republic in similar circumstances and in her poem, "Exile", she describes "the night we fled the country" and calls the experience a "loss much larger than I understood".

Alvarez's transition from the Dominican Republic to the United States was difficult; Sirias comments that she "lost almost everything: a homeland, a language, family connections, a way of understanding, and a warmth". She experienced alienation, homesickness, and prejudice in her new surroundings. In How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Alvarez asserts that trying to raise "consciousness [in the Dominican Republic]... would be like trying for cathedral ceilings in a tunnel".

As one of the few Latin American students in her Catholic school, Alvarez faced discrimination because of her heritage and was often called a "spic" by her classmates.[citation needed] This caused her to turn inward and led to her fascination with literature, which she called "a portable homeland". She was encouraged by many of her teachers to pursue writing, and from a young age, was certain that this was what she wanted to do with her life. At the age of 13, her parents sent her to a boarding school after her neighborhood was deemed unsafe. As a result, her relationship with her parents suffered, and was further strained when every summer she returned to the Dominican Republic to "reinforce their identities not only as Dominicans but also as proper young ladies". These intermittent exchanges between countries informed her cultural understanding, the basis of many of her works.

After graduating from Abbot Academy in 1967, she continued her studies at Connecticut College from 1967 to 1969 (where she won the Benjamin T. Marshall Poetry Prize), the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College (1971), and Syracuse University (1975).

After acquiring a Master's degree in 1975, Alvarez took a position as a writer-in-residence for the Kentucky Arts Commission. She traveled throughout the state visiting elementary schools, high schools, colleges and communities, conducting writing workshops and giving readings. She attributes these years with providing her a deeper understanding of America and helping her realize her passion for teaching. After her work in Kentucky, she extended her educational endeavors to California, Delaware, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and Illinois.

In addition to writing, Alvarez holds the position of writer-in-residence at Middlebury College, where she teaches creative writing on a part-time basis. Alvarez currently resides in the Champlain Valley in Vermont. She has served as a judge,[clarification needed] panelist, consultant, and editor, and also gives readings and lectures across the country. She and her partner, Bill Eichner, an ophthalmologist, created Alta Gracia, a farm-literacy center dedicated to the promotion of environmental stability and literacy and education worldwide. Alvarez and her husband purchased the farm in 1996 with the intent to promote cooperative and independent coffee-farming in the Dominican Republic.

Influence on Latin American literature
Alvarez is regarded as one of the most critically and commercially successful Latina writers of her time. As Elizabeth Coonrod Martínez observes, Alvarez is part of a movement of Latina writers that also includes Sandra Cisneros and Cristina García, all of whom weave together themes of the experience of straddling the borders and cultures of Latin America and the United States. Coonrod Martínez suggests that a subsequent generation of Dominican-American writers, such as Angie Cruz, Loida Maritza Pérez, Nelly Rosario, and Junot Díaz, have been inspired by Alvarez's success.

Alvarez admits "the bad part of being a 'Latina Writer' is that people want to make me into a spokesperson. There is no spokesperson! There are many realities, different shades and classes".

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents is the first novel by a Dominican-American woman to receive widespread acclaim and attention in the United States. The book portrays ethnic identity as problematic on several levels. Alvarez challenges commonly held assumptions of multiculturalism as strictly positive. She views much of immigrant identity as greatly affected by ethnic, gendered, and class conflict. According to critic Ellen McCracken, "Transgression and incestuous overtones may not be the usual fare of the mainstream's desirable multicultural commodity, but Alvarez's deployment of such narrative tactics foregrounds the centrality of the struggle against abuse of patriarchal power in this Dominican American's early contribution to the new Latina narrative of the 1990s."
Regarding the women's movement in writing, Alvarez explains, "definitely, still, there is a glass ceiling in terms of female novelists. If we have a female character, she might be engaging in something monumental but she's also changing the diapers and doing the cooking, still doing things which get it called a woman's novel. You know, a man's novel is universal; a woman's novel is for women."
Alvarez claims that her aim is not simply to write for women, but to also deal with universal themes that illustrate a more general interconnectedness.She explains, "What I try to do with my writing is to move out into those other selves, other worlds. To become more and more of us." As an illustration of this point, Alvarez writes in English about issues in the Dominican Republic, using a combination of both English and Spanish. Alvarez feels empowered by the notion of populations and cultures around the world mixing, and because of this identifies as a "Citizen of the World".

Grants and honors
Alvarez has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundation. Some of her poetry manuscripts now have a permanent home in the New York Public Library, where her work was featured in an exhibit, "The Hand of the Poet: Original Manuscripts by 100 Masters, From John Donne to Julia Alvarez." She received the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1974, first prize in narrative from the Third Woman Press Award in 1986, and an award from the General Electric Foundation in 1986. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents was the winner of the 1991 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award for works that present a multicultural viewpoint. Yo! was selected as a notable book by the American Library Association in 1998. Before We Were Free won the Belpre Medal in 2004, and Return to Sender won the Belpre Medal in 2010. She also received the 2002 Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature.

message 3: by Kokeshi (new)

Kokeshi | 48 comments 'I shot the cruellest dictator in the Americas'

27 May 2011
BBC News

Before his assassination on a dark highway on 30 May 1961, the Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo, ruled with an iron fist for almost 30 years. Tim Mansel meets one of the men who shot him.
Rafael Trujillo's rule is considered one of the most brutal periods in the history of the Dominican Republic. Taking power in 1930, his hold over the country was absolute. He brooked no opposition.
Those who dared to oppose him were imprisoned, tortured and murdered. Their bodies often disappeared, rumoured to have been fed to the sharks.

In 1937, Trujillo ordered the racially motivated massacre of several thousand Haitians living in the country.

Gun battle
His rule ended when he was gunned down on 30 May 1961.
Antonio Imbert is 90. Fifty years ago he was one of the seven men who ambushed and killed Rafael Trujillo. He is a large man with closely cropped hair and he has put on a military uniform for my visit. General Imbert - he was given the military rank later to enable him to receive a state pension - is officially a national hero.
He is brought into the room by his wife, Giralda, moving slowly towards a small rocking chair. His wife lights a cigarette for him.
"What do you want to know?" he asks. It was late evening when Trujillo was shot dead in a gun battle on the road that leads from the capital to San Cristobal, where the dictator kept a young mistress. In their vehicle, Gen Imbert and three other conspirators were waiting for Trujillo's chauffeur-driven Chevrolet to come past. Gen Imbert was driving. Other gunmen were stationed further up the road. The old man's memory is not what it was. But he does remember taking up the chase as Trujillo's car sped past and he recounts the first shots being fired. He remembers Trujillo's driver slowing down and he has not forgotten the decision to pull across in front of Trujillo's car, blocking its path.
"Then we started shooting," he says. Trujillo and his chauffeur were armed, and fought back. Gen Imbert recounts how he and one of the others got out of the car to get closer to their target.
"Trujillo was wounded but he was still walking, so I shot him again," he says. At the end of the gun battle, the dictator, commonly known simply as El Jefe, was left sprawled dead across the highway.
"Then we put him in the car and took him away," says Gen Imbert. They took his body to the house of a plotter, where it was eventually discovered by police.

Fifty years later I wonder if he is happy to have shot the Dominican dictator? "Sure," he replies. "Nobody told me to go and kill Trujillo. The only way to get rid of him was to kill him." Gen Imbert is not alone in having drawn this conclusion. In a letter to his State Department superior in October 1960, Henry Dearborn, de facto CIA station chief in the Dominican Republic, wrote: "If I were a Dominican, which thank heaven I am not," I would favour destroying Trujillo as being the first necessary step in the salvation of my country and I would regard this, in fact, as my Christian duty."

'Cordial relations'
During his rule, Trujillo collected medals and titles, and expropriated property and businesses for himself and his family. He renamed the capital city Ciudad Trujillo, and the country's highest mountain Pico Trujillo. Throughout this, he maintained cordial relations with the US - a picture taken in 1955 shows him in smiling embrace with then US vice-president Richard Nixon.
But the relationship gradually soured over Trujillo's human rights record. The final straw was an assassination attempt sponsored by Trujillo, against the president of Venezuela, Romulo Betancourt. The US closed its embassy and withdrew its ambassador. President Eisenhower had already approved a contingency plan to remove Trujillo if a suitable successor could be persuaded to take over. But the new Kennedy administration withdrew formal support for the attempt on Trujillo's life at the last minute. The failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs had taken place the previous month, and President Kennedy was worried that a power vacuum in nearby Dominican Republic could allow another Castro to take power there.
"The Cold War had moved to the Caribbean," says Bernardo Vega, Dominican historian and former ambassador to Washington.
The only material support provided by the US for the assassination was three M1 carbines left in the US Consulate after the withdrawal of embassy staff, and handed over with CIA approval. Within days of the assassination, Trujillo's son Ramfis took charge and almost everyone involved in the conspiracy and members of their extended families were rounded up. Two of Gen Imbert's fellow conspirators were killed in gun battles while resisting arrest. The other four were imprisoned and later shot.

A plaque near the spot where Trujillo died commemorates their sacrifice. It refers to the killing not as assassination but as "ajusticiamiento", a Spanish word that implies justice being done.
"We Dominicans react very negatively when the people who killed Trujillo are called assassins," says Bernardo Vega. "Ajusticiamiento is a way to give it a positive twist, to say that it was a good thing to do."

'Personal revenge'
Gen Imbert owes his survival to the courage of the Italian consul in Santo Domingo who allowed him to hide in his house for six months. He still has one of the American M1 carbines, but he won't allow me to see it. "You don't show things like that," he says.
But he does let me see the hat he wore to disguise himself in the hectic days after the shooting. He tells a story of how he took a public bus and the driver recognised him, but wouldn't take any payment out of respect for what he'd done. And his wife brings out the pair of scuffed brown brogues that he was wearing the night he shot Trujillo. They're surprisingly small - size seven-and-a-half - with worn patches on the soles. "They've never been repaired," his wife tells me. "He puts them on every 30th of May and sometimes he wears them for several days."

back to top