Summary: Interlude

Lola returns as narrator for the brief interlude that opens Part II. After fourteen months in the Dominican Republic, La Inca told Lola she needed to return to New Jersey. Lola grew depressed during the final weeks of her stay. She quit the track team and dumped Max Sánchez. She also convinced an older man to pay her two thousand dollars in exchange for sex. She planned to use the money to travel to Japan or Goa.

Lola’s mother came Santo Domingo to collect her. Though her time in the Dominican Republic had helped Lola develop her confidence, the first thing her mother said was that she looked ugly. Lola imagined running away once they returned to New Jersey. In hindsight, however, she realizes that running away was impossible: “If the years have taught me anything it is this: you can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in.”

Just before she left Santo Domingo, Lola learned that her ex-boyfriend, Max, had died in a traffic accident. Grief stricken, she gave her two thousand dollars to Max’s mother. Lola cried on the plane back to the United States. Other passengers complained, and her mother ignored her.

Summary: Chapter 5, “The Famous Doctor” through “And So?”

Yunior resumes the narration in Chapter 5, which recounts the story of Lola and Oscar’s grandfather Abelard Luis Cabral in the years 1944–1946.

Abelard was a gifted surgeon. After completing his medical studies in Mexico, he returned to the Dominican Republic and started a family. The Cabrals were wealthy and well-respected. They lived in a massive home called Casa Hatüey, which Abelard had built in the town of La Vega. Abelard also had an Art Deco–style apartment in the nearby town of Santiago where he spent his weekends attending to businesses he ran there. His wife, Socorro, was a skilled nurse practitioner with whom he ran a private medical practice. Together they had two daughters: Jacquelyn and Astrid. Abelard had a special fondness for his elder daughter, Jacquelyn, who had inherited her mother’s beauty and her father’s intelligence.

Abelard boasted a formidable mind and an inexhaustible curiosity. He had a head for computational complexity, and he read widely in Spanish, English, French, Latin, and Greek. He also encouraged his daughters to pursue a rigorous education.

Yet, as Yunior notes, “The Reign of Trujillo was not the best time to be a lover of Ideas.” Trujillo had spies everywhere, which made Abelard’s frequent parlor debates especially dangerous. Despite the danger, Abelard conducted himself with meticulous care. He gave the outward appearance of an “enthusiastic Trujillista,” but privately, he kept his head down and tried to ignore the dictator’s horrific behavior. When Trujillo invited Abelard and his family to banquets in his own honor, Abelard would go, smile, shake the man’s hand, and otherwise try to avoid notice.

Things changed for Abelard when he started attending Trujillo’s events alone, leaving his family behind. Abelard had heard rumors about Trujillo’s “notorious rapacity,” and he feared that Jacquelyn’s exceptional beauty would attract the dictator’s eye. As Yunior notes, however, Trujillo’s entitlement and insatiable appetite for young women made it both difficult and dangerous for Abelard to hide his daughter: “In this climate, hoarding your women was tantamount to treason.”

Abelard spoke of his concerns for Jacquelyn with his wife, but she refused to acknowledge the problem. He also spoke with his longtime friend, Marcus Applegate Román, and his mistress, Señora Lydia Abenader. Though Marcus said there was nothing Abelard could do, Lydia offered to send Jacquelyn to live with some relatives she had in Cuba. Abelard decided to wait before making any decisions.

Abelard’s anxiety intensified one night when he attended another presidential event. When he shook Trujillo’s hand, the dictator hesitated and, for the first time, spoke to him. He said he’d heard that Abelard had beautiful daughters, and Abelard responded, “They’re only beautiful if you have a taste for women with mustaches.” Abelard had a momentary vision of Trujillo raping Jacquelyn, but the dictator laughed and moved on. Abelard spent the next three months paralyzed with worry.

Analysis: Part 2, Interlude & Chapter 5, from “The Famous Doctor” through “And So?”

After spending fourteen months in the Dominican Republic learning to love herself, Lola still had a harder lesson to learn: her mother would never change. During her time in La Inca’s care, Lola discovered a sense of belonging on the school track team, and she found herself in a loving relationship with a kind young man. Learning about her mother’s difficult youth also softened Lola’s desire to rebel against her. These transformations in her personal outlook led Lola to believe that her relationship with her mother could evolve into something better, and this opinion appeared to be confirmed when Lola enjoyed gentle and loving phone calls with her mother, who expressed her desire for Lola to come home. But when her mother arrived in Santo Domingo and made a mean-spirited comment about her appearance, Lola understood her mistake. No matter how much Lola changed, it did not imply a corresponding change in her mother, whose cruelty remained intact. Though painful, the lesson inspired the powerful realization that Lola could only control her own thoughts and behaviors. Even if her mother never changed, Lola could still free herself from the woman’s toxic cruelty.

Lola’s realization that she could never run away from her family reflects her understanding that, whether she liked it or not, she was a product of that family. Like her mother before her, Lola spent a lot of time fantasizing about running away to a better life. In her early teens, she imagined traveling to far-off places, hoping to get away from her mother. And when her mother spoke to her with casual cruelty after so much time apart, the shock and pain caused by her words reignited Lola’s old fantasies. But upon returning to New Jersey, Lola understood a deeper truth about the nature of home and belonging. No matter how much she might have wanted to get away, she would never be able to fulfill her desire for escape. Even if she travelled to Japan or to Goa, she would always carry with her the memories of her mother, and her experiences of their relationship would never stop shaping her experience of the world. As such, Lola realized that running away would be impossible because she’d never be able to get away from herself.

Chapter 5 shifts the narrative further back in time to recount the origins of the curse that would continue to affect the de León family two generations later. The curse began with a man named Abelard Luis Cabral, the respectable patriarch of a Dominican family of high social standing. Both Abelard and his wife were well known among the Dominican Republic’s nobility, both for their superior work as medical professionals and for the energetic salons they hosted at their impressive estate, Casa Hatüey. In the first half of the chapter, Yunior places heavy emphasis on the wealth and respectability of the Cabral family, and this emphasis has an ominous effect. As Abelard’s confidence begins to erode in the face of mounting anxiety, the reader senses that, given the Cabral family’s relative social height, some kind of fall must lie ahead. The notion of a coming “fall” feels especially strong, given that Yunior has already used that term several times. In Chapter 3, for example, he described Beli’s tragedy as a fall. A similar sense here of an impending fall foreshadows the tragic events that will occur in the second half of Chapter 5.

Trujillo’s infamous predilection for raping young women represents the most extreme and most toxic expression of Dominican male sexuality in the novel. Previous chapters have introduced the intense relationship between sex and Dominican masculinity. In particular, Chapter 4 showcased a stark difference between how Oscar and Yunior approached their sexuality. Both felt influenced by the normative idea that Dominican men should demonstrate sexual prowess. But whereas Oscar usually insisted on showing women respect, Yunior’s behavior toward women proved disrespectful and, at times, cruel. The way Yunior developed his sexual identity without much consideration of women’s feelings highlights a fundamental problem in the stereotype of Dominican masculinity that privileges the male experience over the female. As Yunior himself points out, this problem reached its apex in the figure of Trujillo. “Trujillo might have been a Dictator,” he explains, “but he was a Dominican Dictator, which is another way of saying he was the Number-One Bellaco [‘Knave’] in the Country.” In this quote, Yunior draws a clear link between Trujillo’s rapacious and violent sexuality and his Dominican identity. Ironically, however, Yunior does not appear to see his own behavior as a reflection of Trujillo’s, albeit less extreme.