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In the Time of the Butterflies transports us to the Dominican Republic in the mid-twentieth century when the country struggled under the brutal dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. A work of historical fiction, the novel honors the lives of Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa Mirabal, who became icons of freedom and women’s rights when they were slain on Trujillo’s orders on November 25, 1960 for their role in the underground resistance movement. Their story haunted Alvarez, whose own family had already fled the Dominican Republic.
The murders of the three women inspired many in the Dominican Republic to denounce the regime publicly and marked the beginning of the end for Trujillo’s reign. In 1999 the United Nations General Assembly designated the date of the Mirabal sisters’ deaths, November 25, as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
About the Author
Although Julia Alvarez was born in New York City, her family moved back to the Dominican Republic when she was only three months old. The family lived comfortably until 1960, when authorities discovered that Alvarez’s father belonged to an underground effort to overthrow Trujillo’s regime. Fearing for their safety, the Alvarezes fled back to the United States. Just three months later, the Mirabal sisters—founders of the underground—were murdered.
The family returned to New York City, where Alvarez enjoyed learning English and credits the experience with helping her become a writer. As she explains, “Not understanding the language, I had to pay close attention to each word—great training for a writer. I also discovered the welcoming world of the imagination and books.”
Alvarez earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Syracuse University. She had been teaching at Middlebury College for three years when her first novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, was published in 1991. The book received widespread acclaim and enabled her to pursue writing as a full-time career.
Alvarez lives with her husband, Bill Eichner, in Vermont. In 1998, the couple founded a center in the Dominican Republic called Finca Alta Gracia . Workers at the center cultivate environmentally sustainable shade-grown organic coffee, the sale of which supports a school on the farm where children and adults can learn to read.
About the Big Read
The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.