Apr 20, 2014

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz

Every weekend, we bring you Book Pages, where we share pages from our favorite books.  I’m currently reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a 2007 novel that earned Dominican author Junot Díaz the prestigious Pulitzer Prize award in 2008.

In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Díaz utilizes footnotes to purposefully add context and history to the story.  Below is the first footnote, which I found to be extremely powerful and poetic.

“For those of you who missed the mandatory two seconds of Dominican history: Trujillo, one of the twentieth century’s most infamous dictators, ruled the Dominican Republic between 1930 and 1961 with an implacable ruthless brutality. A portly, sadistic, pig-eyed mulato who bleached his skin, wore platform shoes, and had a fondness for Napoleon-era haberdashery, Trujillo (also known as El Jefe, the Failed Cattle Thief, and Fuckface) came to control nearly every aspect of the DR’s political, cultural, social and economic life through a potent (and familia) mixture of violence, intimidation, massacre, rape, co0optation, and terror; treated the country like it was a plantation and he was the master.  At first glance, he was just your prototypical Latin American caudillo, but his power was terminal in ways that few historians or writers have ever truly captured or, I would argue, imagined.  He was our Sauron, our Arawn, our Darkseid, our Once and Future Dictator, a personaje so outlandish, so perverse, so dreadful that no even a sci-fi writer could have made he ass up.  Famous for changing ALL THE NAMES of ALL THE LANDMARK in the Dominican Republic to honor himself. (Pico Duarte became Pico Trujillo, and Santo Domingo de Guzmán, the first and oldest city in the New World, became Ciudad Trujillo); for making ill monopolies out of every slice of the national patrimony (which quickly made him one of the wealthiest men on the planet); for building one of the largest militaries in the hemisphere (dude had bomber wings, for fuck’s sake); for fucking every hot girl in sight, even the wives of his subordinates, thousands upon thousands of women; for expecting no, insisting on absolute veneration from his pueblo (tellingly, the national slogan was “Dios y Trujillo”; for running the country like it was a Marine boot camp; for stripping friends and allies of their positions and properties for no reason at all; and for his almost supernatural abilities.

Outstanding accomplishments include:  the 1937 genocide against the Haitian and Haitian-Dominican community; one of the longest, most damaging  U.S.-backed dictatorships in the Western Hemisphere (and if we Latin types are skillful at anything it’s tolerating U.S.-backed dictators, so you know this was a hard-earned victory, the chilenos and the argentinos are still appealing); the creation of the first modern kleptocracy (Trujillo was Mobutu before Mobutu was Mobutu); the systematic bribing of American senators; and, last but not least, the forging of the Dominican peoples into a modern state (did what his marine trainers, during the Occupation, were unable to do).

Footnote 1, pages 2 and 3.

Have you read this book?  If so, how did it speak to you?

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Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Dr. Perez-Litwin is the Founder & CEO of ELLA Leadership Institute, a multi-platform professional development organization designed to advance the careers and leadership of women. She's the creative force behind the LATINAS THINK BIG™ national tour, sponsored and live-streamed by Google.

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Comments

  1. Ariana Allen says:

    As a proud Dominicana, I had to support Junot and get the book. Im still in the process of reading it. However, when I came upon that foot note, I had to laugh out loud. I loved the sarcasm behind it. It made me proud that he put 2 seconds of our history there.

    • Ariana, totally with you on that one. I love Junot’s sarcasm throughout his writing. He does it effortless and poetically.

  2. I read this book a couple of years ago and I loved everything about it. The story of the Dominican-American family, Junot’s casual, urban vernacular, the history, the comedy, the tragedy. I was really inspired his fresh narrative and how he was able to illustrate life between two cultures without sounding cliche or relying on cheap stereotypes. I’ve recommended this book to so many friends and will probably be re-reading it very soon.

  3. I’m about to start reading this book. I love reading Latino literature. I’m just glad that I’m finally done with school so I can read for fun! Thanks for the sneak peek!

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin angelica says:

      Jai, you are very welcome! Have you read some of Sandra Cisnero’s books?

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