Features / Five in Bloom


by Juhi Singhal Karan

Book dedications might have begun as way of acknowledging patronage in centuries gone by, but in today’s world dedications tell a story all their own. Here we bring to you the story behind the dedications of the works of five bloomers.

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
For Dedé

Julia Alvarez’s family fled their native country, the Dominican Republic, in the wake of the terror wrought by dictator Rafael Trujillo. Alvarez is one of four sisters herself, and she describes her second novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, as the story of the “other sisters”—“the ones who stayed behind and paid for our freedom with their lives.” The book, a 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award nominee, is based on the true story of the Mirabal sisters who fought against Trujillo’s tyranny and were called “Las Mariposas” or the “The Butterflies.” On November 25, 1960 three of the sisters were assassinated by Trujillo—a day that the U.N. later declared as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Of the sole survivor, Alvarez said, “although the heroism of her sisters was what led me to their story, it was the triumphant example and empowering story of Dedé Mirabal which inspired me to write In the Time of the Butterflies, [which is] why the novel is dedicated to Dedé.”

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
This book is dedicated to my Good friend & comrade. My Wife. L.F.B.

Maud Gage Baum was L. Frank Baum’s roommate’s cousin before she became his wife. Her mother, Matilda Josyln Gage, was a leading suffragist of her time. Exposure to Maud and her family influenced Frank deeply, and in time led to his adoption of feminist beliefs, an action “that [would] have a profound effect on his fiction.” Maud’s and Frank’s first meeting was a memorable one. As outlined in L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz: A Biography by Katharine M. Rogers, Baum’s aunt introduced him to Maud saying, “Frank, I want you to know Maud Gage. I’m sure you will love her.” To which he said “Consider yourself loved, Miss Gage.” She replied, “I take that as a promise, Mr. Baum. Please see that you live up to it.”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This book is dedicated to MY SON, GUY JOHNSON, and all the strong black birds of promise who defy the odds and gods and sing their songs


Maya Angelou burst onto the literary scene with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The first in a series of seven autobiographical novels, the book hasn’t been out of print since it was first published more than 40 years ago. Angelou gave birth to her only child, Guy Johnson, at the age of 17. She called him her “monument in the world,” and “the greatest blessing.” When George Plimpton asked her if the “one prevailing theme” across her autobiographies was “the love of your child,” Angelou said, “Yes, well, that’s true. I think that that’s a particular. I suppose, if I’m lucky, the particular is seen in the general.” She also said “Each human being has had that sensation of being caged from time to time. We are not saved from being white or black or rich or poor; we’re not saved from being highly educated or illiterate. . . . [A]nd . . . we need to know someone else felt like that. Okey dokey. I’m not by myself. I can get out of this. I may be able to evict myself from depression.”

Illegal by Paul Levine
To the woman carrying a rucksack, clutching her child’s hand, and kicking up dust as she scrambled along a desert trail near Calexico, California.

In Paul Levine’s words, Illegal is dedicated to “An undocumented immigrant . . . [A] Mexican woman who floated up the New River on an inner tube with her little boy.” Levine, a writer of legal thrillers, was spurred to write the story by a chance encounter with “[A] striking, dark-haired woman in her early 30s and a boy of 10 or so.” Booklist called the novel “a riveting read, filled with action, pathos, and even humor.” While driving near the border in Calexico, California, he observed the New River: “a steaming current of raw sewage and toxic runoff that carries hepatitis, typhoid, polio, and cholera.” The woman and the child seemed to have “[swam] with the current, white garbage bags over their heads to blend in with the noxious foam,” The thought of anyone braving “the noxious foam,” Levine wonders, “makes you ask, ‘Why the hell would someone do that?’”

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
For my friend Annelise Platt Tusind tak

Lois Lowry’s Newbery Medal winner Number the Stars was inspired by the stories that her friend Annelise shared of the Nazi occupation of Denmark during World War II. In the afterword to Number the Stars Lowry writes, “I had always been fascinated and moved by Annelise’s descriptions not only of the personal deprivation that her family and their neighbors suffered during those years, and the sacrifices they made, but even more by the greater picture she drew for me of the courage and integrity of the Danish people under the leadership of the king they loved so much, Christian X.” Tusind tak—“a thousand thanks” in Danish—is perhaps a nod not just to Annelise, who sowed the seeds of the book in Lowry’s mind, but also to “the Danish people [who] stood by their Jewish citizens and were instrumental in saving almost all of them from Nazi persecution and death.

Bloom Post End

Homepage photo credit: Leo Reynolds via photopin cc

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