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.

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 :

Pulled Out a Plum. . . One for the Money: the First Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich


One for the Money by Janet Evanovich | LibraryThing

Evanovich, J. (2001). One for the money: the First Stephanie Plum novel. New York: HarperTorch. ISBN: 0061009059

The Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich begins with One for the money: the First Stephanie Plum novel. Stephanie Plum is a Jersey Girl down on her luck; she is out of a job and then her Miata is repossessed. Pretty soon, she may have to move back in with her parents and wacky Grandma Mazur. When push comes to shove, Stephanie blackmails her slimy cousin and bail bondsman Vinne Plum into giving her a job as a Bond Enforcement Agent or B.E.A. or bounty hunter. As a bounty hunter, Stephanie must apprehend people who have used Vinnie’s services but have skipped bail. She becomes acquainted and reacquainted with a comical cast of characters. Stephanie very first case happens to be bringing in vice cop Joseph “Joe” Morelli. Stephanie’s previous sexual encounters with Morelli, a boxer with a nasty temper, bad “car-ma,” and training with expert bounty hunter Carlos Mañoso a.k.a. Ranger add to the misadventures of Stephanie’s induction into the life of a bounty hunter.

One for the money: the First Stephanie Plum novel focuses first on the crime of bail skipping. The victim, Vinnie Plum, loses money when someone fails to appear (FTA). Stephanie must find Morelli and make him appear in court. Since Stephanie operates as a rookie bounty hunter, solving the mystery is really not part of her job description. In this sense, Stephanie is an amateur detective. She does encounter murder along the way and takes solving that crime into her own hands. Stephanie’s curious nature and tenacity as well as the circumstances of F.T.A. leads her to solving the crime in this book and subsequent books in the series. With her smart mouth and comical reactions to situations at hand, Stephanie is a sympathetic character like many amateur detectives. Yet, as a bounty hunter, there are some private investigative and police procedural elements (Saricks 153). In the end, I still find Stephanie Plum to be an amateur – especially in this first novel.

I knew I wanted to read a Stephanie Plum book for this assignment because I find that Janet Evanovich brings in new readers to the Mystery Genre. After evaluating the Stephanie Plum series, I decided on One for the money: the First Stephanie Plum novel because it was the start of the series. While Evanovich excels in regurgitating facts and reintroducing characters in her other Stephanie Plum novels, I decided it would be easiest for patrons to start with the beginning and follow Stephanie’s career. Additionally, locating a copy of One for the money: the First Stephanie Plum novel would be simpler than finding Evanovich’s latest Stephanie Plum installment.

I found the book to be an easy read and I was automatically rooting for Stephanie. While I did not feel as though she could save the day, I crossed my fingers she would be able to save her own neck. I found some parts of the book to be rather vulgar (i.e. foul language, sexual situations and innuendo, and violence.) Yet, I believed the characters would not be so convincing if they did not cuss. Ultimately, I thought the book was hilarious and I found myself ready to put my hands on the next book.

The cast of characters, if nothing else, are unforgettable. Evanovich and narrator Stephanie describe them well with so few words. Immediately, I imagined Grandma Mazur being played by Estelle Getty. I look forward to seeing if Stephanie ever makes a decision between Morelli or fellow bounty hunter – Ranger. I enjoyed the interaction between Stephanie and Lula, too.

I definitely recommend the Stephanie Plum novels to women. One for the money: the First Stephanie Plum novel is wisecracking and romantic simultaneously. Stephanie’s wisecracks, along with her sweet tooth and numerous other human weaknesses make Stephanie accessible to the reader. She is a normal person placed in some rather outrageous circumstances. Evanovich previously wrote romantic fiction and elements from this genre appear between Stephanie and Morelli.

Four out of Five Pearls!

 

Saricks, J. G. (2001). The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. ALA Readers’ Advisory Series. Chicago: American Library Association.