We are introduced to the major characters, their backstories and the geographical locations in play for this narrative. There are some important structural and literary devices that crop up early on, so it's crucial to pay attention.
If you miss the gigantic spirit-Jorge striding across the sea, radiating blue light, we really can't help you. The mixing of supernatural elements with everyday life signals the use of magical realism, which is a big part of the narrative and of the cultural thinking of the characters. The inclusion of Celia's letters also set the structure and pace of the novel. They open a door to Celia's past and become another means of revelation for us. García also introduces the rites and philosophies of santería here.
On the narrative side, we learn of Felicia's building mental illness, the conflict between Pilar and Lourdes, Celia's disappointing love life and her obsession with El Líder, Lourdes' rape and Felicia's attempted murder/suicide.
This stage comprises the bulk of the narrative. In it, Felicia sees "military service," marries twice, commits assault and murder, embraces santería and dies. Her daughter Luz finally gets a say and reveals much about her father and mother. Ivanito runs into a sticky situation with his Russian teacher at boarding school. It's clear that he still doesn't fit in.
Celia takes on the role of civilian judge, nurses wayward son Javier after his marriage dissolves, loses a breast to cancer and reaches Felicia just before she (Felicia) dies. Celia notes that her children all disagree with her political sensibilities.
Lourdes becomes an auxiliary policewoman, stops eating and loses half her body weight, and continues her antagonistic relationship with Pilar. Toward the end of this stage, she loses contact with Jorge's spirit, but promises to deliver a message for him to Celia.
Pilar has grown up (still a punk fan), has a couple of boyfriends, goes to college and travels Italy, picks up the bass guitar, has an encounter with Changó and is assaulted in the park. At the end of this stage, she initiates the trip to Cuba.
Celia remembers the posthumous miracle that leaves Felicia's body whole again. Pilar and Lourdes arrive in Cuba and find Celia in a sorry state. Pilar gets to know her again and meets her little cousins. Lourdes takes a journey to her old ranch, "kidnaps" Ivanito and screams at Castro.
Pilar decides she must betray Celia by helping Ivanito emigrate and by returning to the U.S. herself. Celia takes another swim in the ocean, this time releasing her pearl earrings into the depths.