Rafael Leonidas Trujillo (1891-1961) ruled the Dominican Republic with an iron fist for over thirty years before he was assassinated on May 30, 1961. The late dictator was sixty-nine years old. His death brings a sigh relief to the people of the Dominican Republic and the United States, Trujillo’s sponsor through direct intervention in Dominican affairs in the early 1900s and later through the Good Neighbor Policy which allowed the government to turn a blind eye to the atrocities being committed by Trujillo’s regime. The name of the capitol was changed back to Santo Domingo, the name assigned to the oldest city in the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus. Although Trujillo’s tyrannical reign came to an abrupt end, the nation found itself in political turmoil. Poverty, class division and corruption have continued to plague the republic to this day. Throughout his reign, Trujillo was faced by many opponents, some of whom he had executed in cold blood to silence any and all opposition to his maniacal conduct. Officially, he is known to have persecuted thousands of Haitian immigrants and Dominican citizens repulsed by the policies of his administration.
Among his many fierce critics were a group of sisters that became martyrs in their cause for change and protests against Trujillo’s repressive ways. Julia Alvarez has adapted their lives into this phenomenal account that tells the story of the famed Mirabal Sisters. Their names are Patria, Minvera, Maria Terese and Dede. Their goal was to transform Dominican society into one in which equal rights existed for women and all people in the Dominican Republic. As they raise families and mount their opposition to a maleficent tyrant, their lives take twists and turns along the way showing the reader the true costs of freedom. In a time where the movement for equality for women still had much ground to cover, the lives of Mirabal sisters are nothing short of inspiring. Despite being incarcerated several times and threatened by Trujillo’s regime, they refused to relinquish their crusade for a free Dominican Republic. Their resilience had tragic consequences and the deaths of Minvera, Patria and Maria Teresa on November 25, 1960 near the now famous resort town of Puerto Plata is known was one of the darkest moments in the history of the country. Dede, the youngest sister, made a decision through fate not to be with her sisters on that November night and lived to carry on their legacy until her own death at the age of eighty-eight on February 1, 2014. Her daughter Minou Mirabal is currently a congresswoman with the Alliance For Democracy Party and remains an active force in Dominican politics while carrying on the Mirabal name.
The book does not simply read like a biography but more like a novel allowing the reader to intimately know the central characters. Each sister is a force on her own and together they form a family bond that was tested on a routine basis. As we make our way through the book, we begin to feel that these incredible women are our sister as well and their safety becomes our primary concern. The intimidation by Dominican authorities and jailing of their husbands and eventually the sisters cast a dark cloud over their daily lives and gives the book an edge of suspense which the reader will be unable to shake. But through their courage and unwavering ideology, they press on and they take us with them all the way until they meet their fate in Puerto Plata. And once they are gone, their story will stay with the reader as an example of the courage and strength that women exhibit in the face of adversity.
Following their deaths, there was outcry and rage at the horrific actions taken against them. The Trujillo regime was known for its excessive violence and the death of the three sisters served only to plunge his regime deeper into infamy. The United Nations recognized the sisters and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was created in their honor. It is celebrated every year on November 25 in memorial of their untimely deaths. In 2001, this book was adapted for the silver screen under the title of the same name. The film stars Selma Hayek, Edward James Olmos and singer Marc Anthony. Their family home was turned into a museum is still open to and visited by tourists from all parts of the world curious about the lives of the fallen heroines. Nearly 60 years have passed since their deaths but the light that is their memory shines bright and each year on November 25, we can look back at the lives of these iconic women.