Before We Were Free
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"Before We Were Free" Summary

By Julia Alvarez

historical fiction | 192 pages | Published in 2007

Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom living in the Dominican Republic. But by her 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated to the United States, her Tío Toni has disappeared without a trace, and the government’s secret police terrorize her remaining family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship. Using the strength and courage of her family, Anita must overcome her fears and fly to freedom, leaving all that she once knew behind. From renowned author Julia Alvarez comes an unforgettable story about adolescence, perseverance, and one girl’s struggle to be free.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A young girl in the Dominican Republic grapples with political turmoil and her family's struggle for freedom under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.

Brief Synopsis

"Before We Were Free" by Julia Alvarez is a compelling novel set in the Dominican Republic during the 1960s. The story follows the experiences of a young girl named Anita de la Torre, whose family becomes caught up in the political turmoil and danger of living under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. As Anita navigates the complexities of her family's involvement in the underground resistance movement, she grapples with the challenges of adolescence, including friendships, first love, and the desire for freedom. The novel provides a poignant and intimate portrayal of a family's struggle for survival and the universal quest for liberty and self-discovery.


The novel is primarily set in the Dominican Republic during the 1960s, a time of political upheaval and oppression under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. The story unfolds in the de la Torre family's home, as well as in the wider community where they navigate the dangers and uncertainties of life under a repressive regime.

Main Characters

Anita de la TorreThe protagonist and narrator of the story. She is a thoughtful and curious young girl who becomes increasingly aware of the political turmoil around her.
MamiAnita's mother, who is deeply involved in the resistance movement against the Trujillo regime.
PapiAnita's father, who faces difficult decisions and risks as a result of his opposition to the dictatorship.
LucindaAnita's older sister, who is passionate about fighting for freedom and justice.
OscarAnita's cousin, who becomes involved in the underground resistance and faces grave danger.

Chapter Summaries

Chapters 1-3

Anita introduces her family and their comfortable lifestyle in the Dominican Republic. She describes her close bond with her extended family and her growing awareness of the political situation in the country.

Chapters 4-6

The de la Torre family experiences increasing tension and fear as the political climate becomes more volatile. Anita learns about the underground resistance movement and the risks it entails for her loved ones.

Chapters 7-9

Anita's family faces a series of challenges and threats due to their involvement in the resistance. They must make difficult decisions to protect themselves and their cause.

Chapters 10-12

The danger escalates as the family's actions draw the attention of the oppressive regime. Anita grapples with the realities of their situation and the sacrifices that may be necessary for their survival.

Chapters 13-15

As the political situation reaches a boiling point, Anita and her family are forced to confront the harsh realities of life under a dictatorship. Their courage and resilience are put to the ultimate test.

Main Events

  1. The de la Torre family becomes increasingly involved in the resistance movement against the Trujillo regime.
  2. The family faces threats and challenges as a result of their opposition to the dictatorship.
  3. Anita experiences personal growth and a deepening understanding of the political turmoil around her.
  4. The family's struggle for survival reaches a critical juncture as they confront the oppressive forces of the regime.
  5. The novel culminates in a gripping and emotional climax that tests the bonds of family and the strength of the human spirit.

Themes and Insights


  1. Political Oppression: The novel explores the impact of living under a repressive regime and the sacrifices required to resist injustice.
  2. Family and Sacrifice: The importance of familial bonds and the willingness to make sacrifices for the greater good are central themes in the story.
  3. Coming of Age: Anita's personal journey mirrors the broader struggle for freedom, highlighting the universal experience of adolescence and self-discovery.


"Before We Were Free" offers insight into the human capacity for resilience in the face of adversity and the enduring power of hope and courage. The novel also provides a poignant exploration of the interplay between personal growth and political awakening.

Reader's Takeaway

Readers of "Before We Were Free" will be captivated by the compelling portrayal of a family's struggle for freedom and survival. The novel offers a poignant and relatable exploration of the universal themes of oppression, resilience, and the quest for self-discovery. Through Anita's eyes, readers gain a deep understanding of the complexities of living under a dictatorship and the enduring strength of the human spirit.


"Before We Were Free" by Julia Alvarez is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that resonates with readers of all ages. Through the eyes of the young protagonist, Anita, the story offers a compelling portrayal of the personal and political struggles faced by individuals living under oppressive regimes. The novel's exploration of themes such as family, sacrifice, and resilience makes it a compelling and relevant read for anyone interested in historical fiction and the universal quest for freedom.

Before We Were Free FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'Before We Were Free'?

    The genre of 'Before We Were Free' is historical fiction.

  2. Who is the author of 'Before We Were Free'?

    The author of 'Before We Were Free' is Julia Alvarez.

  3. What is the setting of 'Before We Were Free'?

    The setting of 'Before We Were Free' is the Dominican Republic in the 1960s, during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.

  4. What is the book 'Before We Were Free' about?

    The book 'Before We Were Free' follows the story of a young girl named Anita de la Torre as she navigates life under the oppressive regime of the Dominican Republic's dictator, Rafael Trujillo.

  5. Is 'Before We Were Free' suitable for young adult readers?

    Yes, 'Before We Were Free' is suitable for young adult readers, as it addresses themes of resilience, freedom, and coming of age.