Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

Junot Diaz wins Pulitzer

April 8, 2008

On his winning Pulitzer, Meghan O’Rourke interviews Diaz for Slate, where, among other things he also says:

Slate: As I mentioned above, much of Oscar Wao isn’t only about its protagonist, a nerdy kid from New Jersey, but about the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961. Can you tell us what drew you to Trujillo?

Díaz: Trujillo was one of the U.S.’s favorite sons, one of its children. He was created and sustained by the U.S.’s political-military machine. I wanted to write about the demon child of the U.S., the one who was inflicted upon the Dominican Republic. It didn’t hurt that as a person Trujillo was so odd and terrifying, unlike anybody I’d ever read or heard about. He was so fundamentally Dominican, and for a Dominican writer writing about masculinity, about dictatorship, power, he’s indispensable.

I’ve always been drawn to dictators. My father was a Little League dictator. That really affected me, his control-freakery, his impunity, his arbitrary unreasonable power. So there was that. Also, my book required a Dark Lord, and what better dark lord than a real life dictator? Trujillo exemplifies the negative forces that have for so long beleaguered the peoples of the New World. Seemed the perfect foil for Oscar. This novel (I cannot say it enough) is all about the dangers of dictatorship—Trujillo is just the face I use to push these issues—but the real dictatorship is in the book itself, in its telling; and that’s what I think is most disturbing: how deeply attached we all are to the institution of dictatorship.

Slate: What do you mean when you say the “real dictatorship is in the book itself”?

Díaz: We all dream dreams of unity, of purity; we all dream that there’s an authoritative voice out there that will explain things, including ourselves. If it wasn’t for our longing for these things, I doubt the novel or the short story would exist in its current form. I’m not going to say much more on the topic. Just remember: In dictatorships, only one person is really allowed to speak. And when I write a book or a story, I too am the only one speaking, no matter how I hide behind my characters.

Slate: One could, of course, have written a more straightforward “political” novel about the depredations of Trujillo’s dictatorship. How—or why—in your mind do the stories of Trujillo and Oscar fit together?

Díaz: I guess the question for me is, how are they not related? It’s like the history of the Dominican Republic. You can’t tell the history of the U.S. without the history of the Dominican Republic, and yet people do so all the time. Oscar, like Lola, like Yunior, is one of Trujillo’s children. His shadow, his legacy, is upon them all in ways that none of them understand. Trujillo is a local version of the legacy of the New World, which all of us who live in this hemisphere carry upon our heads. The novel’s question is: How do you deal with this legacy? Do you run from it? Do you ignore it, deploy existential denial? These are strategies that add to the legacy’s power, that guarantee its perpetuation. Or do you look into the silence and actually say the words that you have to say?

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