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Latam Booklook: "The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Díaz

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A curse that persecutes Dominicans still in the United States is the fate that Oscar shares with his family, as well as the constant desire to escape

Latam Booklook: "The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Díaz

What is it about?

Everything begins since Christopher Columbus arrived in America. With him came the fuku, "the Curse and Condemnation of the New World," an inescapable energy that signals the destiny of Dominicans wherever they go. Is this the weight, superstitious or true, that Oscar and his family, the Cabrals, carry, even though they are already installed in the United States, when they are already part of the Dominican diaspora and are permeated by other cultural influences.

This crossing of cultural heritage is evident in the main character, Oscar. He is a fat and cheesy, a nerd who loves science fiction and comics, a young man who dreams of becoming a writer and who suffers because he is the only Dominican who has not lost his virginity. That is to say; it is the opposite of the Dominican stereotype 'Papi Chulo', seducer of women and sure of itself. He is not the only one to question the gender stereotypes of Dominicans, since his mother, Beli, and his sister, Lola, are rude, dominant and independent women who do not fit the submissive 'Latin American woman' and dedicated to the family.

With this curse on their backs and these characters who question the role of their tradition, the book by Junot Díaz tells us the story of their lives and how in different generations some patterns repeat themselves. Thus, we learned of the adventures of Beli in a youth in which his mother tried to protect her from men and vices, while she only wanted to dance and marry The Gangster. We also learned about Oscar and his childhood as a seducer that eventually became a frustration in adolescence and adulthood, of all his attempts and sufferings for losing his virginity. Also, there is also the life of Lola, who wants to escape her family member, but always returns, either because Oscar tries to kill himself or because his mother gets cancer. All these attempts to escape the life that touched them is the engine that moves their lives. Finally, there is Yunior, a boyfriend of Lola, who sees from inside and sometimes from a distance everything that happens to this family, as well as providing a historical context of the dictatorship of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic of Beli and the parents of she.

Edited in Spanish by Penguin Random House and in an incredible translation by Achy Obejas, Óscar Wao's wonderful short life is a trip to the effects of tradition, immigration and uprooting in the Dominican Diaspora in the United States.

Who wrote it?

Like Óscar, Junot Díaz is originally from the Dominican Republic, but when he was six years old, he went with his family to live in New Jersey, so most of his life has been lived in the United States. Is he a Latin American or American author? This is a difficult question to answer, since, even if he writes in English, the English of his books is a sort of Spanglish proper to the Dominican communities in North America. Also, its themes are not what traditionally would be called American, since there are complete fragments that happen in the Caribbean and different contexts. So, more than putting a label, Junot Díaz is an author of the mestizo, the crossing of influences and languages, one that escapes any national label.

As for his awards, Junot has won two of the most important national awards in the United States: the Pulitzer Prize and the National Books Critic Circle Award, both in 2008 and with his first novel. He has also received significant scholarships such as the MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, the Pen / Malamud Award and the Guggenheim Fellowship.

Currently, he works as a fiction editor at the Boston Review and as a writing professor at the Rudge and Nancy Allen Chair at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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Do I read it or not?

In a fragment of the novel, Lola claims to have had "The sensation that tells me that everything in my life is about to change. Just the other day, I woke up with all these dreams and there it was, pulsating in me ". This phrase summarizes how the characters always have a desire for everything to be different, that it is possible to escape the life that touched them, that the fuku does not pursue them.

However, this escape is not only impossible, but the sufferings and traditions that mark the body and actions of the members of the Cabral family are repeated over generations. For this reason, Óscar, like Beli, has a revelation in the cane field in which both are almost killed, even if there is a difference of more than 20 years. Thus, the book reveals little by little that the fuku is not a pure superstition, but a context and a tradition, a Dominican sexist upbringing and under a dictatorship, that persecutes the characters and affects their actions and identity.

For the above, in addition to having excellent humor to tell the story of the Trujillo dictatorship and not fall victim to life permeated by racism, sexism and Latin American stereotypes suffered by the characters, I recommend this book. The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao not only questions these stereotypes by portraying how his characters are moved by his heritage, although they try to escape from it but also breaks them by exposing their fragility and historical conditioning. Ultimately, the border between languages (English and Spanish), as well as between the weight of the past and its effect in the present are blurred to create a new territory of Latin America, if that label can still be useful.

 

LatinAmerican Post | Juan Gabriel Bocanegra

Translated from "Latam Booklook: “La maravillosa vida breve de Óscar Wao” de Junot Díaz"

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