Summary: Part 1, Chapter 3, from “The Gangster We’re All Looking For” to end

The Gangster was deeply involved with the Trujillo regime. His parents kicked him out of the house at the age of seven. By twelve, he had professed his admiration for Trujillo and become involved with the Secret Police. At fourteen, he killed his first Communist, and this led to a range of other illegal activities. He showed a particular affinity for the “flesh trade,” and by twenty-two, he operated several brothels. Meanwhile, the Gangster’s devotion to Trujillo enabled him to move up the ranks.

When Beli started dating the Gangster, he romanced her intensively. He also confessed that he felt tormented by his past crimes. Despite her initial reservations, Beli connected with him over their shared orphanhood, and she eventually fell in love. The Gangster promised to marry her and buy her houses in Miami and Havana.

Beli grew proud. She acted contemptuous of others in her neighborhood and broke all of La Inca’s house rules. The Brothers Then fired her from the Palacio Peking, and though they hired her back after the Gangster threatened them, Beli quit.

Beli’s affair with the Gangster played out against a background of violence as the Trujillo regime struggled to maintain control. The Gangster began disappearing for weeks at a time, and Beli had no way to reach him. During a particularly long absence, Beli visited the men who used to pine for her and told them about her new love. The Fiat dealer flew into a rage and attacked Beli, who bludgeoned him to death with a whisky bottle. Arquimedes, the student, reacted with silence.

When the Gangster came back, he took Beli on a vacation to Samaná, where he was born. Samaná is a remote village on the east coast of the Dominican Republic, and the narrator describes it as a paradise. He speculates that one of the authors of the King James Bible may well have used Samará as his model for describing Eden. The vacation made Beli feel close to the Gangster, who showed her his childhood home and brought her to all the best restaurants. One night, he confided that, unlike ordinary people, he felt free. Beli said she wanted to be free like him.

The next day, someone came to tell the Gangster to report to the palace immediately. He left Samaná and promised to send a car to return Beli to Baní. No car came. Angry, Beli hitched a ride with some farmers. Passing through a ramshackle town, she thought she saw a man without a face waving at her.

After arriving home, Beli discovered she was pregnant. The discovery calmed her anger at the Gangster, and she fantasized about getting married. She announced her pregnancy to the Gangster. He implied that she should get an abortion, but she persisted, expressing her hope to have a son.

As it turned out, the Gangster had hidden a major secret from Beli. Not only was he already married, but he was married to Trujillo’s sister, known affectionately as La Fea (“The Ugly One”). News of Beli’s pregnancy reached La Fea, who approached Beli in a park along with two pompadoured cronies the narrator calls “Elvis One” and “Elvis Two.” La Fea introduced herself to Beli and said the Elvises would take her to a doctor for an abortion, but Beli managed to escape.

Days later, Beli left La Inca’s house to speak to the Gangster. Before she got far, the Elvises captured her. La Inca knew Beli was in deep trouble, and she prayed to the point of exhaustion for Beli’s survival. Meanwhile, the Elvises drove Beli to a cane field, beat her savagely, and left her for dead.

As she lay in the field, a golden-eyed mongoose appeared by Beli’s side. The mongoose explained that her baby was dead, and that if she didn’t get up, she’d never have the son or daughter that awaited her in the future. Beli found her way to the highway where a traveling band picked her up. While she recovered in the hospital, news came of Trujillo’s assassination.

La Inca realized Beli needed to leave the country, and over the next few months she made arrangements to send Beli to New York. Beli saw the Gangster one last time before she left. At the age of sixteen, she got on a plane to New York.

Analysis: Part 1, Chapter 3, from “The Gangster We’re All Looking For” to end

The narrator’s comparison of the Dominican town of Samaná to Eden foreshadows Beli’s fall from grace. In the well-known biblical story, Adam and Eve enjoyed lives of perfect harmony and bliss in the Garden of Eden. Trouble came when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, which God had forbidden them from doing. As retribution for their disobedience, God cast Adam and Eve out of Eden, leaving them to navigate the dangers of the outside world. Adam and Eve’s exile from Eden is commonly called “the Fall,” which refers to their fall from God’s grace. The symbolism of the Fall initially arose in the first half of Chapter 3. When La Inca observed Beli’s changing behavior toward her, as well as her newfound flirtatiousness with men, she referred to the transformation as Beli’s “Fall.” The biblical symbolism returns here in the second half of Chapter 3, when the narrator equates Samaná with Eden. Just as Adam and Eve’s sojourn in Eden eventually came to a tragic end, so too does Beli and the Gangster’s time in Samaná. This sudden unraveling of their vacation foreshadows the tragic events the narrator relates in the remainder of the chapter.

Beli’s visions of the man without a face and the golden-eyed mongoose symbolize the contrary forces of fukú and zafa. In the prologue, the narrator noted that whenever Dominicans think the fukú curse is at work, they utter the word zafa as a way to counter the curse. The narrator reintroduces these terms at the end of Chapter 3, asking whether Beli’s beating and subsequent escape represented fukú or zafa. The narrator refuses to answer his own question because the events leading to Beli’s departure for New York contain elements of evil as well as salvation. Each of these contrary elements appears in the narrative in symbolic forms. For instance, when Beli saw a man without a face waving at her on the way back from Samaná, it was just before she realized she was pregnant with the Gangster’s child. The eerie vision served as an evil omen, implying the fukú curse that foreshadowed the violent attempt on her life. However, after getting beaten, Beli envisioned a golden-eyed mongoose. This creature spoke to Beli of a hopeful future, which encouraged her to live. Against the fukú symbolized by the man without of face, the mongoose symbolized the counter-force of zafa.

The simultaneity of Beli’s attack and the assassination of Trujillo has an ambiguous symbolic significance. For Beli, the severe beating in the cane field represented the most traumatic experience of her life. In addition to sustaining terrible injuries, she also lost her unborn child and was eventually forced to flee the Dominican Republic altogether. In the context of the narrator’s overarching emphasis on the curse that has haunted multiple generations of the de León/Cabral family, Beli’s life-threatening circumstances certainly seem symbolically linked to fukú. However, that the most traumatic event of Beli’s life happened on the same night as the Dominican Republic was liberated from one of the most traumatic periods in its history carries significance. If, as the narrator has suggested, Trujillo was a manifestation of fukú in the flesh, then his assassination might be understood as an event that neutralized the power of fukú. In other words, the assassination of Trujillo was a manifestation of zafa. Once again, the narrator leaves it up to the reader to decide whether the coincidence of Beli’s beating and Trujillo’s assassination ultimately indicates fukú or zafa.

Beli’s escape from the Dominican Republic afforded her a kind of freedom that stands in opposition to the kind of freedom exhibited by the Gangster. During their vacation in Samaná, the Gangster told Beli that he felt free in a way that few Dominicans were free. The Gangster earned his sense of freedom as one of Trujillo’s henchmen. By taking an active role in the suppression of his fellow Dominicans, the Gangster not only avoided becoming a victim, but he also gained access to a variety of exclusive privileges that enabled him to live well and to travel widely. When Beli said she wanted to be free like the Gangster, she expressed desire for a freedom that would bring new possibilities. Specifically, she imagined that her marriage to the Gangster would raise her to a new level of social status and wealth. But the events that unfolded after Beli’s return from Samaná quashed her dream for upward social mobility and instead catapulted her out of the Dominican Republic and to safety in New York. Whereas she had previously longed for the freedom to live a luxurious life, she ended up with the far less glamorous but physically secure freedom to live without fear of being harmed.