National Hispanic Heritage Month – Junot Díaz


Junot Díaz | Goodreads

This post is part of a feature at Jorie’s Reads by Starry Night Elf called “Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao changed my perception of something which seemed so scholarly – footnotes. My goodness, I’d never seen anything like it – little contradictions and factoids to add to the story of the woeful ghetto nerd Oscar. Within a page, I got narrative and the Dominican Republic’s volatile history. His work pointed me towards other books about the DR. I felt I had an idea and that’s mostly due to Díaz.

Goodreads states:

Junot Díaz is a contemporary Dominican-American writer. He moved to the USA with his parents at age six, settling in New Jersey. Central to Díaz’s work is the duality of the immigrant experience. He is the first Dominican-born man to become a major author in the United States.

Díaz is creative writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2008.

In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Díaz has received a Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Reader’s Digest Award, the 2002 Pen/Malamud Award, the 2003 US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was also awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2012. He was selected as one of the 39 most important Latin American writers under the age of 39 by the Bogotá Book Capital of World and the Hay Festival. In September 2007, Miramax acquired the rights for a film adaptation of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

After reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, this book became a staple on my Top Ten Tuesday posts 🙂 … I also pushed through his previous work Drown, a collection of short stories (not my favorite prose) simply because they were written by Díaz. Lucky for me, Yunior, Díaz’s narrator, was there, too.

His latest – This is How You Lose Her – is on my TBR pile. Why? Well, his blend of facts and narrative bring forth a gloriously clear picture of what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Thus, I couldn’t celebrate without mentioning Díaz.

Advertisements

Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat


The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa | LibraryThing

* A 1001 Books Book

Vargas, L. M., & Grossman, E. (2001). The Feast of the Goat. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 9780374154769

I eventually picked up The Feast of the Goat for a few reasons – my latent interest in turbulent Dominican history, the book’s listing as a “Core” 1001 Books Book, and writer Vargas Llosa’s recent status as a Nobel Prize Laureate. Ironically, I finished the book around the fiftieth anniversary of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina’s assassination. So, I pulled this book off one of HCPL’s shelves.

Vargas Llosa offers three distinctly different storylines throughout the book –  the fictitious Urania Cabral in the 1990s, Trujillo’s assassins, and then Trujillo/El Jefe/The Goat. on his last day – 30 May 1961. The author alternates between these three points of view.

Storyline 1 – In the 1990s, successful attorney Urania returns to her native Dominican Republic for the first time in years. She visits her invalid father, the once powerful Secretary of State Agustin Cabral. Agustin fell out of favor El Jefe. Urania angrily recalls her last days in the DR with Agustin. Later, Urania relates her nightmarish coming of age to her aunt and cousins. The Cabral family was created by Vargas Llosa.

Storyline 2 – the assassins lie in wait on 30 May 1961 for Trujillo. These real-life killers are Antonio Imbert Barrera, Antonio de la Maza, Salvador Estrella Sadhalá – “Turk,” and Amado García Guerrero – Amadito. Each one bears the scars for want The Goat dead. Vargas Llosa based his characters on actual people.

Storyline 3 – Trujillo lives out his last day. El Jefe reminisces about his despotic career, his family, tough relations on the world stage, and his regular deflowering of young girls. Vargas Llosa took an actual dictator and made him even more villainous.

Vargas Llosa recreates the last days of the Trujillo Regime quite vividly. The feelings of desperation, hopelessness, and machismo pervade. The truest rendering of characters were the ones the author made up – the Cabrals. I found the “real people” rather suspect.

I’m happy I read this book because I could see connections to the writings of both Junot Díaz and Julia Alvarez. I wonder if Díaz used the name Cabral as a tribute to The Feast of the Goat. However, I found some parts – especially those from The Goat’s point of view, tedious and disgusting. I felt a need to wash out my eyes or something. Also, I liked that Urania found some peace in sharing her experience with the women of her family.

Three and a Half Out of Five Pearls

Song: YouTube – Antonio Morel y Su Orquesta feat Macabi “El Chivo”

Places : The Dominican Republic, The United States

You might also like:

For more on Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat, check out the following sites:

Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea


Allende, I., & Peden, M. S. (2010). Island beneath the sea: A novel. New York: Harper. 9780061988240

A few years ago, I picked up Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune. Allende cast her spell on me with her characters and her storytelling. Oddly enough, several years passed by before I read another Allende work. As it happened, I chose her latest work Island Beneath the Sea which I requested through HCPL.

Allende tells the stories of numerous people living on 1700s Saint-Domingue (Haïti). First, she introduces readers to the young Toulouse Valmorain. He and the female Valmorains live comfortably in France thanks to his father’s sugarcane plantation, Saint Lazare, in Saint-Domingue.

His planter father sends a letter, requesting Valmorain to come the island in 1770. Valmorain arrives on the island, receiving a rude awakening. The elder Valmorain can no longer run Saint Lazare. So, it falls to Valmorain to make a go of it, turning Saint Lazare into a profitable plantation. Settling into Saint-Domingue, Valmorain marries a Spaniard Eugenia living in Cuba. In the midst of all of this, Valmorain purchases a slave to serve Eugenia.

This slave is a child named Zarité – called Tété. She’s the daughter of an enslaved African woman and a sailor. Tété leads a harsh existence and discovers comfort in voodoo and the slave community. Numerous passages in the book are related by an adult Tété. The rest of the novel told in third person.

Tété endures many abuses and hardships at the hands of Valmorain, who aims to be a “benevolent slave owner.” Yet, they later flee to New Orleans – together.

All I can say without further spoiling the plot is that I found the storytelling and character development of Tété mesmerizing. I also enjoyed learning about the enterprising courtesan Violette and Dr. Parmentier, the man of science with twenty-first century ethics. I even appreciated the complexity of Valmorain. Characters such as Gambo, Maurice, Rosette, Zacharie, and the Murphy family seemed unrealized, though. I could’ve easily done without Hortense! Nonetheless, I guess there was need for such a catalyst.

I also felt Allende did well with the rising action and then slammed the reader into a wretched nightmare that was Tété’s early life. Then, in the New Orleans part, the novel seemed rushed. I wanted to find out more about New Orleans life as well as denouement for Tété and her family. Overall, it was good storytelling but the plot needed help.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Places:

France, Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Cuba, New Orleans

For more on Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea, please check out the following links:

Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao


Book Cover

Book Cover

Díaz, J. (2007). The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao. New York: Riverhead Books.

All the Pulitzer buzz proved irresistible. Then, I saw Díaz on CBS Sunday Morning and in Criticás. Initially, I liked hearing and reading that there was another writer out there grateful to libraries and librarians.  Learning that Oscar Wao was actually a mispronunciation of Oscar Wilde and that the characters were from part of the Dominican diaspora increased my interest.

My fascination with the D. R., a place narrator/watcher Yunior “Yuni” de las Casas describes as being very “sci-fi,”  stems from Dominican American writer Julia Àlvarez. Àlvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies was even referenced in one of the many footnotes in this book. My mom requested the book and I read it in a week.

Oscar is a sad, obese New Jersey “ghetto nerd” (Díaz, Chapter One) of Dominican descent. He voraciously consumes all the Sci-Fi the Paterson, NJ libraries can offer; they and his sister Lola are the only ones who do not reject him. Instead of being in Middle Earth, he must do his best in the real world. However, he and his family seem doggedly ill-fated, being heavily pursued by an old Dominican curse of “fuku.” Fuku haunts Oscar’s family since his erudite grandfather said the wrong things about the D.R.’s former despot, Trujillo. Yet, the romantic temperament of Oscar does not keep him from avoiding the grips of “fuku.”

Immediately, I liked the authentic characters and the believable depictions as given mostly by our watcher, the womanizing Yuni. I also felt as though I experienced the true life of the first generation in the US through Oscar, Lola, and Yuni.

I had a love/hate relationship with the Spanglish of this novel. My limited understanding of Spanish drove me to my language dictionary often.  Nevertheless, it made  Yuni and the rest of the characters completely real. By the end of the book, I was convinced I could meet up with some of the characters. Another love/hate relationship derived from the multitude of footnotes. While I liked the context offered, it also distracted from the story.

The language definitely earns this novel an “R” rating.  I was particularly  troubled by the constant use of the “n word.” While I understand it’s both permissible and commonplace amongst these characters, I didn’t like it and I refuse to even type the word in my blog.

One of the most impressive feats Díaz manages is creating a Fantasy novel. In the strictest definition, the parallel universes of late Twentieth Century New Jersey and the Trujillo days of the Dominican Republic offer the reader a work of folklore-laden Fantasy and contemporary Historical Fiction.

All in all, I’m glad I read his book and I quickly requested Díaz’s collection of short stories Drown via ILL.

Four out of Five Pearls

Places: The Dominican Republic; Paterson, NJ; New York, NY, New Brunswick, NJ

For More on The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao :