Let’s Discuss — The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

What did you know about diaspora? What did you know about Nueba Yol or unheated ‘old law’ tenements or children whose self-hate short-circuited their minds? What did you know, madame, about immigration? Don’t laugh, mi negrita, for your world is about to be changed. Utterly. Yes: a terrible beauty is etc., etc. Take it from me. You laugh because you’ve been ransacked to the limit of your soul, because your lover betrayed you almost onto death, because your first son was neverborn. You laugh because you have no front teeth and you’ve sworn never to smile again (160)

When I read The Feast of the Goat, I remember thinking how fear, shame and paranoia could spread through both the oppressed and the oppressors through generations.  This book is a great fictionalized example of the generations I was referring to. I mention the Vargas Llosa because of the connection to Trujillo. There are footnotes about Trujillo all over the pages of ‘Oscar Wao’. Trujillo’s legacy of fear and hate is unleashed upon Oscar and his family, and it has diffused into Dominican culture on the island and in the States.

While I feel Trujillo and things like fuku* are unique to Dominican culture, I believe they easily transpose to an American experience many young people face at some point in their lives; a struggle with identity. Oscar is the quintessential example: an overweight, ghetto, nerd, living and breathing science fiction/fantasy culture, wallowing in self-pity and degradation. His biggest affront is he lacks that (in)famous Dominican swagger. Poor Oscar is not the object of female affection…well romantic affections anyways. He’s a minority within a minority, a subculture within a subculture.

I realize this doesn’t sound like much at first, but this preoccupation with love and affection goes deeper than how it appears at the surface. It’s present in the love-hate relationship between Oscar and himself, his sister, Lola, and her boyfriends,  Lola and their mother, Belicia; Belicia and her past, her family in the DR, and her mother-figure, La Inca. Between the family and Trujillo, Trujillo and the DR…once again, it’s the fuku and the angst of society at work.

Many of the characters in this book have dealt with pain or abuse of some form, but Diaz is able to spin threads of humor and realness into the dialogue and narrative.  This way the read as a whole isn’t bogged down with misery. It’s filled with playful generalizations, semi-colloquialisms, muted violence, brief dream sequences of a golden mongoose…the ‘n-word’ is said a lot–on par with the level of usage in the movie Django. It is colorful melancholy and strangely personal. And while the ending isn’t a happy one, it was certainly appropriate. This book is wonderful.

*fuku = curse, doom, superstitious powers, The Curse and Doom of the New World.

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