Posts Tagged ‘The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao’

Bible, titles of some classics and Oscar Wao

May 3, 2008

Here are a few links from the latest Hindu literary review edition:

Have fun!

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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?

Take a look!

Yet another review of Oscar Wao

December 5, 2007

John Isaac Lingan reviews the book for The Quarterly Conversation:

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao doesn’t offer a particularly new or enlightening view of the immigrant or postcolonial experiences, but this doesn’t detract from Diaz’s considerable aesthetic accomplishment. His prose is frequently exhilarating, and the sheer volume of intertextual references—Stephen King, Mario Vargas Llosa, X-Men, Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons, and on—establishes a convincingly multilingual narrative voice to match the book’s themes and settings. It’s Diaz’s bursting, polyphonal attempt to fill the blank pages of his ethnic history.

Take a look (and, I am sure, by now, you are convinced that the book is a must-read).

The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao

October 20, 2007

I finished reading Junot Diaz’s The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao a few days back; I liked it a lot.

As with Mario Vargas Llosa’s The feast of the goat (about which book, Diaz does not seem to be very happy — at least about the history that is described in that book), the sections dealing with Trujillo’s dictatorship are excruciatingly painful to read — though, unlike Llosa’s book, in Diaz’s, the figure of Trujillo it not so much a presence as a terrifying shadow that looms from the footnotes. Also, unlike Llosa’s book (the vivid descriptions, in which, of astrocities committed by Trujillo and his hench-men left me sickened for a couple of days after I finished reading it), Oscar Wao, is in some sense an elevating book; and, I think Jacob Russell nails the reason for that in his review:

This is not the story of Oscar Wao–it is his life, because his is the life that encompasses all the characters in the book. He is all that his mother has denied. And in the end, frees himself from her, not in rebellion, like Lola, but by affirming the antithetical drives he carries within him. In doing so, he surrenders to the curse, the Fuku… he has to. Amor Fati… and defeats it. The sacrificial victim–who, having lived the life of the victim all his years, frees himself… from the mother of his victimhood, frees her with him. Transforms the curse to a blessing…. and yet… Diaz doesn’t let us forget… such triumphs do not raise the dead, do not erase the scars, do not vanish the shadows…

… of the Trujillos that haunt us still.

I also liked Oscar Wao for the way in which it is written — using a language that is at once profanity ridden, angry, sad, comic, wise, and peppered with Spanish words (that I gave up translating using Google after the first few pages), and socio-literary allusions.

I gave one sample of Diaz’s writing (from the footnotes) earlier; here is another (in the fourth page of the novel):

You want a final conclusive answer to the Warren Commission’s question, Who killed JFK? Let me, your humble Watcher, reveal once and for all the God’s Honest Truth: It wasn’t the mob or LBJ or the ghost of Marilyn Fucking Monroe. It wasn’t aliens or the KGB on a lone gunman. It wasn’t the Hunt Brothers of Texas of Lee Harvey or the Trilateral Commission. It was Trujillo; it was the fuku. Where in conazo do you think the so-called Curse of the Kennedys comes from? How about Vietnam? Why do you think the greatest power in the world lost its first war to a Third World country like Vietnam? I mean, Negro, please. It might interest you that just as the U.S. was ramping up its involvement in Vietnam, LBJ launched an illegal invasion of the Dominican Republic (April 28, 1965). (Santo Domingo was Iraq before Iraq was Iraq.) A smashing military success for the U.S., and many of the same units and intelligence teams that took part in the “democratization” of Santo Domingo were immediately shipped off to Saigon. What do you think these soldiers, technicians, and spooks carried with then, in their rucks, in their suitcases, in their shirt pockets, on the hair inside their nostrils, caked up around their shoes. Just a little gift from my people to America, a small repayment for an unjust war. That’s right, folks, Fuku.

If the phrase “Negro, please” is something that Diaz uses with great effect elsewhere too in the book, the sentence, “Santo Domingo was Iraq before Iraq was Iraq” is Raja Rao-ian in its flavour.

Bottomline: a book certainly worth your time (and a writer to look forward to reading — I have already checked out from the library his short story collection called Drown).

PS: Here is the novella that Diaz published in the New Yorker with the same name as the novel, in case you wanted a longer sample of Diaz’s writing.

Update: From the comment: Jacob Russell recommends this review of Oscar Wao by Mathew Sharpe at Powell’s books.

Dictators, writers and dissertation committees

October 13, 2007

What is it with Dictators and Writers, anyway? Since before the infamous Caesar-Ovid war they’ve had beef. Like the Fantastic Four and Galactus, like the X-Men and the Brotherhood of  Evil Mutants, like the Teen Titans and Deathstroke, Foreman and Ali, Morrison and Crouch, Sammy and Sergio, they seemed to be eternally linked in the Halls of Battle. Rushdie claims that tyrants and scribblers are natural antagonists, but I think that’s too simple; it lets writers off pretty easy. Dictators, in my opinion, just know competition when they see it. Same with writers. Like, after all, recognizes like.

Long story short: upon learning of the dissertation, El Jefe first tried to buy the thing and when that failed he dispatched his chief Nazgul (the sepulchral Felix Bernardino) to NYC and within days Galindez got gagged, bagged, and dragged to La Capital, and legend has it when he came out of his chloroform nap he found himself naked, dangling from his feet over a cauldron of boiling oil, El Jefe standing nearby with a copy of the offending dissertation in hand. (And you thought your committee was rough).

From a foot note in Junot Diaz’s extraordinary The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.