Monday, December 31, 2007

Junot Díaz's "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao"

Junot Díaz's fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Best American Short Stories. His debut story collection Drown was a national bestseller and won numerous awards. Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times called his recently-published first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, “a book that decisively establishes him as one of contemporary fiction's most distinctive and irresistible new voices.”

Díaz applied the "Page 99 Test" to the novel and reported the following:
My luck: page 99 doesn't really tackle any of the major themes of my book. Except, I guess, youth and love and history. The mother character in the book, Belicia, was one of my favorites and the one I had to work the hardest in making REAL. Her adolescent love affair (which page 99 touches upon) was actually based on a couple of similar 'falls' I heard about while interviewing folks in Santo Domingo. Throughout Latin Amerca lightskinned upperclass boys historically made it a habit to 'practice' their sexuality on darker skin girls; it was part of their prerogative (for a real life example see the life and birth history of Carlos Fonseca.) Anyway: it always surprises me how first loves can set the stage, romantically, for so much that is to come in a person's life. The ultimate in presentiment, I guess. That's what's going on in the upper text, Beli and her first love Jack the Ripio; in the lower (or footnote) text we get a quick capsule history of the First Son of the Trujillo Dictatorship: the evil Ramfis Trujillo. He was one of those messed up historical personas I could have gone on about for pages. His life really was as twisted as he ended up being himself. He killed so many people, crippled so many lives -- I enjoyed the shadow that Ramfis casts on the upperclass boys Belicia ends up always being attracted to. His impunity is in some ways an extreme version of what these other boys enjoyed.
Read an excerpt from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and learn more about the book and author at Junot Díaz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue