It recounts the rebellion against Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, the dictator of the Dominican Republic.
The story begins in the Mirabals' family store, where the family is discussing whether the girls will enroll in school. The family has new found wealth and the girls' parents feel that they need a good education to go with it. The scene is set, with a picture of the "wonderful ruler" Trujillo right next to the picture of Jesus. Minerva is being watched by the authorities that have been stationed in each town. The girls are eventually sent away to Immaculada Catholic School for Girls for schooling. At this point in the novel, the story follows Minerva's view of life as she discovers the horror that is Trujillo, young Maria Teresa's view as she watches Minerva rebel, and then saintly Patria's view, as she struggles to find her calling from God and overcome her unbearable loneliness. The reader discovers that Dede is being interviewed in the present day, and everything in the novel is a flashback in the form of diary entries and old memories. As the interviewer asks questions, Dede goes further into thought, bringing the reader with her into the living nightmare that is her past.