The beginning of this novel foregrounds the action that occurs in the past by presenting us with the last remaining Mirabel sister in the present. Dede is shown to be a woman who tries to avoid the publicity her status as the last butterfly gives her, but when a new woman comes to interview her about her sisters, she is drawn back again into the past and the memories of their origins.
The first four chapters therefore present us with the Mirabel sisters as young women with their own hopes, dreams and desires. Each are presented in turn and ther voice is made distinct. However, it is clear that they live against a backdrop of political repression and depostism, as the first memory that Dede has of them together talking in the garden at night but having to be very careful in what words they choose makes clear. One of the most interesting accounts in this section of the novel is Minerva's and her record of having to perform in front of Trujillo and how he responded when he was challenged directly by her friend. Even though there is a definite sense of nostalgia and reminiscence in such accounts, there is too a real feeling of fear and of threats in the events, such as when Trujillo orders the drama to continue, but only after calling Minerva's friend a "bitch" and telling her to unite Minerva with her teeth.