The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Summary and Analysis of Section II, Chapter 5: Poor Abelard 1944 – 1946

Yunior narrates this chapter once again.


On the rare occasion when the family tells Abelard’s story, they start with the Bad Thing he said about Trujillo. Abelard Luis Cabral is a surgeon who was part of the upper class (or Fortunate People) of Santo Domingo. He studies to be a surgeon in Mexico and is an intelligent man. He marries a nurse named Socorro, and they have two daughters. The oldest daughter is Jacquelyn, and the youngest is Astrid. Abelard knows multiple languages, and encourages his daughters to read and learn other languages as well. Each morning Jackie writes on a piece of paper, “Tarde venientibus ossa,” or “to the latecomers are left the bones.” Abelard avoids political dissidence and maintains an appearance of supporting Trujillo. Abelard pays his respects to Trujillo at his banquets and parties, but he keeps his distance.

Trujillo’s events require Abelard to bring his wife and daughter. However, in 1944, Abelard begins to attend the events alone once his oldest daughter hits puberty and develops an attractive womanly body. The narrator emphasizes that Trujillo is a Dominican dictator, which means all the women under his rule are his for the taking. Trujillo’s spies are apparently stationed all over the country with the job of finding “ass” for the dictator; the narrator jokes that Trujillo’s dictatorship may have been the world’s first culocracy.

Thus by hiding his attractive daughter Jacquelyn from Trujillo, Abelard is in essence committing an offense against the state. Abelard discusses his worries with the three people closest to him: his wife, Socorro, his mistress, Lydia Abenader, and his neighbor and friend, Marcus Applegate Róman. Socorro does not think that there is a problem. Lydia thinks he should make a request for Jacquelyn to leave the country and stay with her family in Cuba. Marcus tells him there is nothing he can do about it.

One day while at one of Trujillo’s events, Trujillo asks Abelard why he does not bring his wife anymore, suggesting that Abelard is gay. Then Trujillo says he heard that Abelard has beautiful daughters, to which Abelard immediately responded that he does, but that they have mustaches! Trujillo wrinkles his nose, laughs, and continues on his way.


Abelard spends the next three months waiting in suspense and is extremely irritable. However, nothing happens.


The narrator compares the Trujillato to an episode of the TV show Twilight Zone where a white kid with godlike powers controls a town that is isolated from the rest of the world. All of its residents live in terror of him. The narrator calls Trujillo’s Dominican Republic a private Mordor (making a reference to Lord of the Rings) because Trujillo owns and controls everything with his power of office. Still, some people resist Trujillo’s rule, but Abelard was not one of them. He thinks he just has to lie low until the Dominican Republic becomes a democracy, but he is wrong.


In 1945, things are going well for Abelard until February, when he receives an invitation to a party for Trujillo that is addressed to Abelard, his wife, and his daughter Jacquelyn, with the last part underlined multiple times by the host. Abelard visits the host (a neighbor), who says the order comes from the Palacio. Abelard does not tell his wife about the invitation for fear she might panic, but he does consult his mistress Lydia and his friend Marcus. Marcus again reminds Abelard there is nothing he can do. Lydia scolds Abelard for not sending Jacquelyn away when he had the chance. The narrator reminds us of the phrase, “to the latecomers are left the bones.” Abelard tells his wife and daughter of the invitation, and they are excited for the party (unaware of the danger), and Jackie gets dressed up because it is her first party. On the afternoon of the party, Abelard decides not to bring his wife and daughter. Trujillo is not happy.


Four weeks later, Abelard is arrested for “Slander and gross calumny” against Trujillo. Supposedly, after Abelard is out drinking with some friends, he asks for help in moving a bureau (which he picked up for Lydia) to the trunk of his car. When he is about to open the trunk, he jokes, “I hope there aren’t any bodies in here.” The joke is awkward because it is known that during Trujillo’s election, the opposing party’s advocates were killed and thrown in trunks, then brought to a bonfire to burn. When he opens the trunk he again makes a comment, but what exactly he said is disputed. Some (including Abelard) say that he says, “Nope, no bodies here.” However, others say that he says, “Nope, no bodies here, Trujillo must have cleaned them out for me.”


The narrator asserts he thinks what went on above was nonsense or jiringonza.


Abelard spends the night with Lydia. She had recently thought she was pregnant, but it turned out she was not, and they are both slightly disappointed. They talk about how much time has passed since they met (Abelard originally wanted to marry her when they met at a young age, but she rejected his offer).

The atomic bombs hit Japan and the world changes. Two days later Abelard’s wife dreams that the faceless man is standing over her husband. Abelard is not interested in hearing about the dreams.


The secret police come and arrest Abelard. The narrator foreshadows that Abelard will spend the next nine years being shocked and tortured. Abelard thinks the secret police seem nice until he gets to Fortaleza San Luis. There he is stripped of his belongings, punched in the face for asking questions, and thrown into a shit-infested cell where he is harassed by the other inmates and soon is tortured by the guards with shock treatments.

Socorro tracks him down and comes to visit him. She has to wait in a disgusting room for a long time before he is brought in, looking ragged and destroyed. Soon after Socorro realizes she is pregnant with their third daughter. The narrator asks the reader, fukú or zafa?

Why did all of this happen? Did Abelard really make the comment about Trujillo? Or did Trujillo put a fukú on Abelard because he would not let him have his daughter (the family’s preferred version). The narrator tells the reader to decide for himself.

The narrator then mentions that he thinks that the idea that Trujillo punished Abelard for withholding his daughter from him is too easy an explanation. The narrator cites the fact that this type of story has happened for centuries, dating back to the Indian Anacaona who refused to marry a Spaniard and was killed for it. The lesser-known version of Abelard’s story is that he got in trouble because of a book he wrote about the supernatural roots of the Trujillo regime. Oscar liked this version. The narrator points out that it is strange that Trujillo never went after Jacquelyn, and that no samples of Abelard’s writing in the four books he wrote or anywhere else exist.


Abelard is sentenced to eighteen years in February 1946. The family fortune seems to take a turn for the worse.


Their turn in fortune is reflected in the fact that their third daughter, Beli, is born with dark skin, which is considered a bad omen. After her birth, Socorro steps in front of a truck and is killed. In 1948, Jackie is suspiciously found drowned in her godparent’s pool. Moreover, in 1951 a stray bullet kills Astrid, who is praying at church. Abelard lives the longest, serving 14 years of his sentence before dying after receiving a form of torture called “La Corona” that rendered him a vegetable. He is reported dead in 1953, for no particular reason, but actually lives until 1960.


The Child of the Apocalypse, Belicia, is left without a family. No one wants to take her in because she was sickly and underweight. When Belicia is six months old, Socorro’s family comes to claim her but gives her away to other distant relatives when they receive no monetary awards from the Cabrals. Beli lives with a family in Outer Azua, a notoriously bad part of the country. One day, these relatives sell her to complete strangers as a criada/restavek (a child slave).


Beli’s so-called father one day gets angry with her for trying to go to school and burns her back with hot oil. The year is 1955. La Inca, a cousin of Abelard, hears about the incident and is told that the child is related to her. She could not be there for Abelard during the fall because she was grieving the loss of her own husband, but when she hears of the burning she is able to step up and claim Beli as her own, and they become mother and daughter.


Beli never speaks of the 9 years she spent as an orphan, and La Inca rarely speaks of it. The narrator refers to her silence as amnesia brought on voluntarily, which is fairly common in the Islands of Antilles (here referred to as Untilles).


At La Inca’s house, Belicia is safe—it is her sanctuary. Beli lets La Inca civilize her. La Inca never lets Beli talk about her time as an orphan, or about the burning, but she does rub grease on the scar to help it heal. La Inca tells Beli about her lost family. Beli begins to remember her dreams, and she dreams about the burning and her father’s face turning “blank” when he gets the skillet. She also dreams she walked alone a big house with her children calling out to her. Beli goes to school, where she is given the honor of writing the date on the board, a day she never forgets.


At this point in the novel, Abelard’s character is introduced—his story is where the Cabral de León curse begins. The warning from the prologue still echoes, reminding the reader that fukú cannot be avoided, especially if one angers Trujillo. Although Abelard did not intentionally anger the dictator, he also did not give the dictator all that he asked for. In this case, Trujillo asked for Abelard's daughter, and Abelard refused. The individual and the nation are again put at odds in this chapter. Abelard’s love for his daughter Jacquelyn and his defense of her honor leads him to his demise. Abelard is not willing to give all he has to the nation, so the nation (and Trujillo) takes all he has from him. Abelard's act of treason against Trujillo (it remains unclear which act was the offending act) leads Abelard's entire family into a fuku so strong that it lasts for many generations to come. In addition to the fukú Abelard incurred on his family, he also experiences terrible violence and torture in prison, and he does it all for the love for his daughter.

The normalization of the fact that Abelard has a mistress demonstrates the theme of Dominican Masculinity, as does Trujillo’s characteristic search for culo. Trujillo's desire for culo is exaggerated to antagonistic proportions; the narrator claims that Trujillo has spies all over the island looking for Trujillo's next lay. Like a villain in a comic book, Trujillo's characteristics are exaggerated to emphasize his position as the story's antagonist.

The narrator makes direct comparisons of Trujillo's regime to Mordor, the land in Middle Earth that is controlled by the evil lord Sauron of Lord of the Rings. Trujillo is also compared to an evil character with godlike powers in an episode of Twilight Zone. Like these characters, Trujillo maintains absolute control of the country, and does not seem to care if the inhabitants are unhappy with his decisions. If we come back to the Fantastic Four analogy, Trujillo would be the character Galactus, a villain of Godlike proportions. Díaz has taken Dominican history, mashed it up with US pop culture, and churned the mix back out to show how Dominican history has an uncanny parallel with the nerd genres.

The theme of páginas en blanco appears in this chapter as well in Abelard’s lost book. Abelard's book purportedly makes the boldfaced claim that Trujillo is of another world, that he has powers beyond the natural. However, questions remain as to why Trujillo would want to erase all evidence of that book if it did exist. Was Abelard correct in his theory, and if so, does this explain how Trujillo can so easily put fukú on people, even after his death? Furthermore, is Trujillo uncomfortable with anyone writing information about him that he did not approve himself? These questions remain unanswered, and the reader must fill in Abelard's páginas en blanco with his or her own ideas and with Yunior's guidance.

This chapter reveals the circumstances of Belicia's birth. Previously, all that was revealed was that she was the third daughter of a doctor and a nurse, and that her entire family except for her is dead. Belicia's birth seems to go hand-in-hand with the fukú that Abelard incurred on his family. Socorro only realizes she is pregnant after Abelard is in prison, and she dies soon after Belicia's birth. Upon the discovery that Socorro is pregnant, the narrator asks "fukú or zafa?," questioning whether the third and final daughter of the Cabrals is a form of good luck or bad. Beli's dark skin, seen as a bad omen, and the fact that she is underweight and sickly for the first few months, seem to indicate that she is bad luck more than good. The zafa comes in the fact that she survived, but given her circumstances and her future, perhaps that is more of a fukú.

The blank face that Beli dreams of and the “father” that burns her with hot oil remain part of Beli’s páginas en blanco. As iterated in Chapter 3, Beli finds silence more agreeable than the pain of remembering. However, the dream of a faceless man foreshadows the continuation of the Cabral fukú in Beli's life.