Books · Colonisation · Gender · history · Political · Whiteness & racism

La mariposas

In the Time of the ButterfliesIn the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I’ve decided not to re-read this, so I can’t review it properly because I’ve forgotten my thoughts. I’m glad this was brought to my attention by the year of reading women selection because it’s an amazing story and an important piece of radical history. As other reviewers note, by focussing on the personal and making the sisters distinct (even idiosyncratic) and flawed Alvarez demonstrates that extraordinary courage comes from people like you and I (Malala Yousefzai’s book comes to mind here). Also, La Mariposas come across as awesome and heroic, but generally very feminine in the sense of a familiar traditional gender socialisation; nurturing, caring, with integrity stemming from avowed emotion, conscious of self-presentation, and aspiring to a passionate and stable family life, especially young Mate. I am inevitably projecting my own experiences onto Latin@ culture however.

My favourite voice was Patria’s, although I related more to willful Minerva in general. Patria’s self-awareness seemed extraordinary, and her religious faith challenged my (generally negative) perceptions of Catholicism and faith generally. If I felt the girls/women were bourgeois and privileged, that’s probably why Alvarez devotes a lot of time to conveying the texture of their experiences in prison and the relationships they built there. I appreciated Alvarez’s focus on women; the many men in the story remain peripheral. The limited attention to race is my main disappointment in a generally satisfying read. Brief mentions of the Taino and Trujillo’s white supremacy are included, and there is a little space for raising awareness in the jail, but we don’t see much confrontation with racism in the extensive character development.

For me what makes this so worthwhile and exciting is the depth and detail of characterisation. Sometimes I was really struck by the thoughts behind the thoughts, mostly of Patria, but also others, such as Mate’s confession: ‘I think I’m going to burst’ in a context that causes this to position the soul as desire and desire as a kind of fullness, the opposite of the classic formulation. On the level of the personal, this story gives much food for thought.

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2 thoughts on “La mariposas

  1. Thanks for this review, Zanna! I’m yet to read anything by Alvarez, she seems like a thoughtful author. She’s the current writer in residence at my alma mater (Middlebury) and I kinda regret not taking a class with her :(. But I have her novel ‘How the Garcia girls lost their accent’. I hope to read it soon.

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