Summary: Part I, Chapter 3, “Look at the Princess” through “El Hollywood”

In Chapter 3, the novel’s primary narrator returns to tell the story of Oscar and Lola’s mother: Hypatía Belicia Cabral, more familiarly known as “Beli.” The chapter covers the period 1955–1962.

The dark-skinned Beli spent her adolescence in Baní, a Dominican city “famed for its resistance to blackness.” Beli lived with her “mother-aunt,” La Inca, who owned a bakery. La Inca frequently recounted the history of Beli’s respectable family who had been impacted by tragedy. Yet Beli wanted more. She was, as the narrator says, “one of those Oyá-souls, always turning, allergic to tranquilidad [tranquility].” Restless, Beli desired escape.

At thirteen, Beli won a scholarship to the prestigious Colegio El Redentor in Baní. Despite the fact that Beli’s now-dead parents belonged to the Dominican upper class, her status as an orphan made her an outcast at El Redentor. Though school made her miserable, back in her home neighborhood, she sang El Redentor’s praises and pretended to have many close friends there.

Beli developed an irrepressible interest in boys and spent much of her time daydreaming about them. She had eyes for a handsome, light-skinned boy named Jack Pujols. Jack was cocky, wealthy, and entitled. His father served as a colonel in Trujillo’s air force, and his mother was a former Venezuelan beauty queen. The narrator also notes that in later life Jack would grow close to “the Demon Belaguer,” a Trujillo associate who ruled the Dominican Republic following the dictator’s assassination.

Beli tried to get Jack’s attention without success. Things changed following the summer of her sophomore year when she “hit the biochemical jackpot” of puberty, and her body “transformed utterly.” Beli started attracting men’s attention, and she quickly realized that the men’s desire gave her power over them.

Meanwhile, Beli committed herself to her academic work and performed well. In one of her classes, a pupil named Mauricio Ledesme wrote an essay expressing hope that the Dominican Republic would renounce dictators and become a democracy. Both he and the teacher vanished that night, and no one commented on their sudden disappearance.