Summary: Part 2, Chapter 5, from “Santo Domingo Confidential” to end

Yunior compares life during the Trujillo era to a famous episode of The Twilight Zone where a young white boy has the ability to control everyone in his town. Throughout his reign, from 1930 to 1961, Trujillo exercised complete domination over Santo Domingo. He acted like he owned everything and everyone. He also employed a powerful propaganda machine that convinced many Dominicans that he had supernatural powers.

Even so, many Dominicans despised Trujillo and defied his regime. Unlike these resisters, Abelard actively ignored the politics of his day. As Yunior puts it, he didn’t dream of revolution, and he wanted nothing more than to tend his patients and retreat to his study. He assumed that Trujillo’s days as dictator were numbered and that he could simply wait for democracy to arrive.

In February 1945, Abelard received an invitation to another presidential event, and this time the invitation explicitly requested the presence of his wife and his daughter Jacquelyn. He took his concerns to Marcus and Lydia. Once again Marcus responded fatalistically. Lydia chastised him for not acting sooner and, like Marcus, implied that Abelard had no options.

Greatly stressed, Abelard began drinking heavily and isolated himself in his study. Meanwhile, Jacquelyn prepared excitedly for the gala. As the event approached, Lydia tried to convince Abelard to run off with her to Cuba. He rejected the offer, but he also realized that he couldn’t give Jacquelyn to Trujillo. At the last minute he ordered his wife and daughter to stay home and went to the event alone.

Just shy of four weeks later, the Secret Police arrested Abelard on the charge of “slander and gross calumny against the Person of the President.” The event that led to his arrest had occurred shortly after the presidential gala. Abelard had gone to Santiago to purchase a piece of furniture. He asked some friends to help him transport the furniture to his car, a black Packard. They agreed, and when they got to the car, Abelard moved to open the trunk and said, “I hope there aren’t any bodies in there.” The other men present apparently understood the joke as a jab at Trujillo, who had henchmen that infamously drove Packards with bodies in the trunks. One of the men reported the joke to the authorities, and Yunior implies that this man was Marcus.

Nothing happened for the next couple of weeks, though Socorro did dream of a faceless man standing over their bed. But then the Secret Police appeared at Abelard’s home and arrested him. They drove him to a notorious prison in Santiago, where he was beaten and placed in an unsanitary cell with violent criminals. Three days later, Socorro visited Abelard in the prison, and soon afterward, she realized she was pregnant. She would never see him again.

Yunior interrupts the story to ask whether Abelard’s misfortune was linked to fukú or if it was just another version of a very common Dominican story: “The Girl Trujillo Wanted.”

Abelard was convicted of all charges and sentenced to eighteen years. Trujillo confiscated all of Abelard’s property, which signaled a profound downturn for the family. Yunior refers to this downturn as “the Fall,” and he lists several tragedies that came in its wake. First, soon after giving birth to a child with very dark skin, Socorro committed suicide. Two years later, Jacquelyn was found dead, having drowned in a shallow pool. Then, in 1951, Astrid was shot while praying in a church in San Juan. Abelard died in prison, fourteen years into his sentence.

Socorro and Abelard’s third daughter, Beli, passed into the care of a woman named Zoila, who nursed the baby until Socorro’s distant relatives showed up and laid claim to the child. These relatives passed Beli on to even more distant relatives, who then sold her to live as a slave in Azua. She spent her childhood in harsh and sometimes hostile conditions. The father of the family she lived with nearly killed her by dumping a pan of hot oil on her, leaving her back horrifically scarred.

It wasn’t until 1955 that La Inca, one of Abelard’s cousins, tracked Beli down and rescued her. She officially adopted her and taught her to read and write. Though defiant, Beli adjusted well and quickly rose to the top of her school class. She never talked about her experience in Azua, and La Inca didn’t ask her about it.

Analysis: Part 2, Chapter 5, from “Santo Domingo Confidential” to end

The events Yunior recounts in the second half of Chapter 5 suggest a symbolic link between Abelard’s political ambivalence and the tragedy that eventually befell his family. Whereas other intellectuals in the Dominican Republic resisted Trujillo’s regime in fairly direct ways, Abelard tried to ignore the political situation unfolding around him. Of course, he knew enough about the situation to know that he needed to avoid offending Trujillo. But otherwise, he preferred to wait for the regime to end on its own. Even when Abelard felt directly threatened by Trujillo, he failed to take any action. He refused Lydia’s offer to provide Jacquelyn safe haven, and in the midst of his worsening anxiety, he continued to wait and see whether Trujillo would make another move. Eventually, Abelard’s worst nightmare came true. Only then did he finally make a firm decision and openly defy Trujillo by refusing to bring Jacquelyn to his party. In a bit of tragic irony, Abelard’s defiance appeared to go unnoticed. His fatal misstep would actually come later when he believed himself safe. In the end, the reader cannot help but wonder if Abelard might have avoided his ultimate fall had he taken action sooner.

Socorro’s recurring nightmare of a man without a face recalls the faceless man that, as the reader has already learned, Beli will later see more than fifteen years later. In Chapter 3, Yunior recounted Beli’s brief sighting of a man without a face. Shortly after the Gangster abandoned her on their vacation in Samaná, she hitched a ride back to Santo Domingo. On the way they passed through a ramshackle town where Beli had a vision of a faceless man waving to her. Though she did not recognize it at the time, this vision foreshadowed the harrowing event in which two men nearly beat her to death. Yunior’s account of these events also indicated that the man without a face had a symbolic link to the fukú curse. Now, two chapters later, the faceless man returns in Socorro’s nightmares. Once again, this ominous figure bodes ill. Not long after Socorro dreamed of the faceless man hovering over her and Abelard’s bed, her husband got arrested, and the Cabral family fell apart. These events strengthen the reader’s sense that the man without a face is indeed a manifestation of the fukú curse.

Yunior once again raises the question of how to interpret history when he asks whether Abelard’s story was a common one for that period in the Dominican Republic. At several points in the novel Yunior has interrupted his own narrative and invited the reader to decide for themselves whether they think something like the fukú curse is really at work. Considering how common it was at the time for Trujillo to destroy the lives of his fellow Dominicans, Yunior’s question has merit. It seems entirely possible that Abelard’s misfortune was not special but rather a routine cruelty. Even so, it seems clear that Yunior himself believes fukú was at work. Perhaps the clearest evidence of his belief lies in the repeating motifs that, according to his retelling, have appeared across multiple generations of the family. The fact that both Beli and her mother, Socorro, had visions of the man without a face appears to confirm the curse. As Yunior concludes: “What can I tell you? In Santo Domingo a story is not a story unless it casts a supernatural shadow.” Despite leaving the reader to decide for themselves, Yunior believes in fukú.

Yunior’s narrative moves back and forth in time in order to show the reader important links between three generations of the de León/Cabral family. Thus far, Yunior’s account has generally moved backward in time. His narrative began by detailing some of the struggles Oscar and Lola faced in their youth and adolescence. Then, it shifted into the past to recount the tragic experiences their mother, Beli, had while growing up in the Dominican Republic. After telling the story of Beli’s fall, Yunior returned to Oscar and told the story of his fall. This shift forward in time helped underscore certain links between the two generations, particularly Beli’s and Oscar’s shared vision of the golden-eyed mongoose. Now, in Chapter 5, Yunior shifts yet further back in time to the generation of Beli’s parents. Once again, Yunior’s tactic of moving between time frames allows him to demonstrate elements that link the three generations of the family. Readers have already seen how Abelard’s misfortune has resurfaced in the lives of his daughter and grandchildren, and hence we are more likely to understand the events of Chapter 5 as the real origin of the family curse.