domingo, 7 de febrero de 2010

A postmodern plátano’s Trujillo: Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, more Macondo than McOndo

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Published in Antípodas 20 (2009): 75-90

A NOTE FROM YOUR AUTHOR
I know what Negroes are going to say. Look, he’s writing Suburban Tropical now.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao


This purpose of this essay is to evaluate Junot Díaz (1968-)’s role as a native informant in his debut novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) as well as the anxiety of influence that has affected his writing and his unacknowledged debt with Magical Realism. It will also frame this novel within the tradition of the novel of the Latin American dictator and, in particular, within the narrative cycle about the Trujillato. Eleven years after the publication of his first book, a collection of short stories entitled Drown (1996), Dominican American writer Junot Díaz published The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the Sargent First Novel Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2007, and the prestigious Pulitzer Prize the following year. This captivating novel narrates the way in which the long-gone Trujillato (1930-1961) still affects, during the 1980s and early 1990s, the life of Oscar Wao, a heavyset, suicidal, and sexually frustrated Dominican American boy who grows up in New Jersey and is obsessed with science fiction books, girls, and the fukú curse that has damned his family for generations. Toward the middle of the novel, however, there are several chapters with events that take place decades earlier and are devoted to his mother, Hypatía Belicia “Beli” Cabral, and his grandfather, Abelard, both of whom suffered directly the tragic consequences of living under the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina (1891-1961; ruled 1930-61).

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao deals with topics that had already appeared in Drown, such as diasporic Dominican identity, but, like many novels of the Latin American dictator, adds a new meditation on the nature of dictatorship as well as on the dangers and far reach of authoritarian power. As Díaz himself explains, the writing experience was also part of a process of decolonization and a soul-searching voyage back to the source, to paraphrase Alejo Carpentier’s novel Viaje a la semilla (1944): “You come to the United States and the United States begins immediately, systematically, to erase you in every way, to suppress those things which it considers not digestible. You spend a lot of time being colonized. Then, if you’ve got the opportunity and the breathing space and the guidance, you immediately—when you realize it—begin to decolonize yourself” (Céspedes 896).



This personal search for the true essence of Dominicanness, however, is not exempt from stereotyping and essentialism. Overall, the novel defines Dominicans (and especially their historic leaders, Trujillo and his court favorite and surrogate, Joaquín Balaguer 1906-2002; President 1960-1962, 1966-1978, and 1986-1996), as irredeemable racists who are ashamed of their own African heritage: “Leticia, just off the boat, half Haitian, half Dominican, that special blend the Dominican government swears no existe” (26). By the same token, Oscar’s mother, Beli, prefers to consider herself “India” rather than “morena” (115), and her mother, La Inca, despises her own black skin (80). Even worse, when Beli’s parents and sisters die, no one on her father’s side of the family wants to adopt her because of her darkness. As a result, she ends up being a sort of child servant or slave (known in Haitian Creole as restavek or restavec) for a poor family that abuses her and burns her back with acid when she insists on going to school. As Yunior, the hilarious narrator and aspiring writer (Lola, Oscar’s beautiful sister, also narrates part of the story), tells us, Beli’s sisters, “Jacquelyn and Astrid, swam and played in the surf (often suffering Mulatto Pigment Degradation Disorder, a.k.a. tans) under the watchful gaze of their mother, who, unable to risk no extra darkness, remained chained to her umbrella’s shadow” (213). Despite his humorous take on Dominican white supremacy and black self-hate, at one point he bitterly denounces, “That’s the kind of culture I belong to: people took their child’s black complexion as an ill omen” (248).

Excluding Oscar Wao, the rest of the Dominican men in the novel are all unfaithful machos, who often take pride in this demeanor, until we reach the quintessential super-macho of them all: Trujillo. In an interview, Díaz shows his predisposition to deal with this topic in his novel: “I also wanted to screw with traditional Dominican masculinity, write about one of its weirder out-riders” (O’Rourke n.p.). However, the fact that several characters present Oscar as not only the exception to the rule but also a true Dominican oddity seems to have the opposite effect to what, according to this interview, Díaz was trying to accomplish. Indeed, Oscar’s peers question his Dominicanness because he is not good at sports, does not play dominoes and is not a good fighter, but mainly because of his lack of success with women. In direct contrast, his college roommate, the womanizing Yunior, defines himself as “the biggest player of them all” (186) and lightheartedly considers the need to check himself into “bootie-rehab” (175) because he cannot stop cheating on his girlfriends (including Oscar’s sister). This blatant male chauvinism, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao tells us, is taught at an early age by Dominican mothers. Thus, Beli had the following reaction after noticing that her son, Oscar, was crying for a girl: “She threw him to the floor. Dale un galletazo, she panted, then see if the little puta respects you” (15). And yet at one point Dominican society during the Trujillato is defined by its blatant homoeroticism: “When the time came, Abelard would shake El Jefe’s hand, cover him in the warm effusion of his adoration (if you think the Trujillato was not homoerotic, then, to quote the Priest, you got another thing coming)” (215).




Considering this unfettered portrayal of Dominican society, and especially if we take into account the harsh reception that Julia Álvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies (1994) had in the Dominican Republic, it is somewhat surprising that on May 1 2008, the Dominican cámara de diputados officially named Díaz “cultural ambassador of the Dominican Republic in the world” and that he was also acknowledged by the Secretaría de Estado de Cultura during Santo Domingo’s International Book Fair. In contrast with Álvarez, Díaz, who, as we have seen, is much more aggressive in his denunciation of what he perceives as the Dominican Republic’s social ills, attaches no disclaimers to his novel and there is no mention of previous literary or historical texts about the Trujillato in his long acknowledgments after the novel. Whether this differential treatment responds to his defining himself as a Dominican author, his receiving a Pulitzer Award, or any other reason is left to speculation but it is nonetheless noteworthy. It is, in any case, a reason to praise the Dominican government.

The Native Informant

In the search for a transnational Dominican identity that permeates Díaz’s novel, his characters find several “others” that help their own self-exploration. They contrast Dominican American identity to those of Euro-Americans and Dominicans on the island: “That’s white people for you. They lose a cat and it’s an all-points bulletin, but we Dominicans, we lose a daughter and we might not even cancel our appointment at the salon” (66); and later: “We postmodern plátanos tend to dismiss the Catholic devotion of our viejas as atavistic, an embarrassing throwback to the olden days, but it’s exactly at these moments, when all hope has vanished, when the end draws near, that prayer has dominion” (139). These two polarizations bring about the following question: for whom does Díaz write? In a recent interview, he insists on his refusal to act as a cultural translator for his readers, as some of his peers do: “I feel I’m not a voyeur nor am I a native informer. I don’t explain cultural things, with italics or with exclamation or with side bars or asides” (Céspedes 900). And he repeats the same idea in a different interview: “Plenty of writers of color will give you that voyeuristic thrill. I just don’t want to participate in those patterns. Way too often writers of color are, basically, nothing more than performers of their ‘otherness.’ I’m trying to figure out ways to disrupt that” (Lewis n.p.).

However, let us reconsider: in reality, is he not acting as a native informant? Is he not unwillingly giving us that “voyeuristic thrill” that he tries to avoid? While the novel at times suggests that Díaz writes with Dominican and Dominican American readers in mind (for example, when the narrator states “It’s all true, plataneros” 155), it is also evident that many of Yunior’s footnotes (or are they Díaz’s footnotes?) are concise explanations of slang (pariguayo), beliefs (guanguas, mongooses, fukús, zafas), traditions, superstitions, legends, and historical characters and events with which most Dominicans and Dominican Americans are already familiar. Díaz himself has explained the role of these footnotes: “The footnotes are there for a number of reasons; primarily, to create a double narrative. The footnotes, which are in the lower frequencies, challenge the main text, which is the higher narrative. The footnotes are like the voice of the jester, contesting the proclamations of the king. In a book that’s all about the dangers of dictatorship, the dangers of the single voice—this felt like a smart move to me” (O’Rourke n.p). While this approach is commendable, the information included in his footnotes is still very close to what I would consider the cultural translations of a native informant, even if Díaz leaves entire phrases in Spanish without translation and refuses to use quotation marks or italics. And, of course, that the novel was written in English also suggests that he did not have the “plataneros” on the island in mind.

Incidentally, these footnotes reflect Díaz’s totalizing attempt to grasp the entire reality of the period by considering, albeit in a succinct way, most of the historical landmarks and highlights of the Trujillato. In effect, whereas Manuel Vázquez Montalbán devotes an entire novel, Galíndez (1990), to the kidnapping and assassination of the Basque exile Jesús Galíndez by Trujillo’s henchmen, Díaz summarizes the event in a footnote with a quotation from Robert D. Crassweller’s Trujillo: the Life and Times of a Caribbean (1966); while Julia Álvarez re-creates the tragic story of the Mirabal sisters in In the Time of the Butterflies, again Díaz mentions them in passing in another footnote; likewise the elaborate characters of Joaquín Balaguer and the Johnny Abbes in Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat (2000) are reduced here to a couple of derogatory footnotes; finally, whereas Freddy Prestol Castillo dedicates his testimonial novel El Masacre se pasa a pie (1973) and Edwidge Danticat her novel The Farming of Bones (1998) to Trujillo’s genocide of Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans in the Dominican Republic, Díaz cannibalizes once again all these events in a single footnote, as if trying his best to re-create the entire reality of the period without leaving aside any important event.

Junot Díaz’s Anxiety of Influence

Díaz reveals, in another interview, the reason he dared to approach the topic of the Trujillato even though it seemed so saturated after the publication of Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat. According to him, there is still something essential missing from the novels about the Trujillato: “Como novela, La fiesta del Chivo es irreprochable, y, sin embargo, cuando la leí me dejó mal sabor de boca, porque me di cuenta de que a Trujillo le hubiera encantado, porque perpetúa el mito. Yo intento interrumpir el ritual celebratorio. El poder de Trujillo se perpetúa en las historias que se escriben sobre él. Mi libro trata de levantar una contrahistoria” (Lago n.p.). But again, it could be argued that Díaz’s Trujillo (a character in the shadows that does not have a main role in the novel but whose ever-extending influence affects everyone even after his death) perpetuates the myth more than Vargas Llosa’s. The recollection of so many of the rumors, anecdotes, and legends about what Yunior humorously calls the “world’s first culocracy” (217) undoubtedly responds not only to the fascination of Dominicans with this larger-than-life historical character but also to that of the author. Along these lines, in a more than arguable remark, footnote number 9 in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao claims that Joaquín Balaguer “appeared as a sympathetic character in Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat” (90). Seemingly with the intention to solve this inaccuracy, Díaz often calls his character “The Election Thief” and “Demon Balaguer,” as if to leave no doubt about his evil nature, only overshadowed by Trujillo’s. Likewise, besides using some of the numerous and well known nicknames ascribed to Trujillo, Díaz often calls him “the Failed Cattle Thief” as if to make sure (as Bertolt Brecht would have done) that readers do not fall into the temptation of identifying with the tyrant. Yet some passages actually give the impression that Trujillo, in his exaggerated machismo, is the most Dominican of all Dominicans: “If you think the average Dominican guy’s bad, Trujillo was five thousand times worse. Dude had hundreds of spies whose entire job was to scour the provinces for his next piece of ass” (217). In fact, in an interview Díaz corroborates this assumption: “ Trujillo was so fundamentally Dominican, and for a Dominican writer writing about masculinity, about dictatorship, power, he’s indispensable” (O’Rourke n.p).

Díaz’s interpretation of the Era of Trujillo has been mediated by his reading of novels and historical texts about the period, including Trujillo’s political propaganda disguised as biography and historical records; Jesús Galíndez’s La Era de Trujillo (1958); Robert D. Crassweller’s Trujillo. The Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator; and perhaps also José Almoina’s A Satrapy in the Caribbean (1949) and Yo fui secretario de Trujillo (1950), and Bernard Diederich’s Trujillo: the Death of the Goat (1978; in the description of Trujillo’s assassination). Although Díaz makes a conscious effort to differentiate his re-creation of the period from these other texts, several of his main messages and conclusions coincide with those of previous works. Thus, the character of Dr. Abelard Luis Cabral brings to mind the condemnation of patriarchal attitudes and male submissiveness to the dictator in Álvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies: “In his own way, Papá was a Trujillista,” Minerva announced. … His advice was always, don’t annoy the bees, don’t annoy the bees. It’s men like him and Jaimito and other scared fulanitos who have kept the devil in power all these years” (Álvarez 179). Furthermore, Yunior’s explanation, “One of our last nights as novios she said, Ten million Trujillos is all we are” (324), has the same effect.

In fact, it may fairly be argued that one senses a sort of anxiety of influence (to use Harold Bloom’s term), particularly in Díaz’s comments about other Trujillato narratives.Again, his repeated connection of Trujillo’s rule to the colonization of the Taínos by the Spanish conquistadors (see the stories of Hatüey and Anacaona summarized in individual footnotes) is also crucial to Julia Álvarez’s story and to many of the novels about the Trujillato, as I have pointed out elsewhere. To his credit, Díaz never hides the fact that he has read these works that, I argue, may have influenced his writing. Thus, at one point the narrator clarifies: “(It wasn’t like In the Time of the Butterflies, where a kindly Mirabal Sister steps up and befriends the poor scholarship student. No Miranda (sic; Díaz is probably referring to Minerva Mirabal in this passage) here: everybody shunned her.)” (83). Similarly, when Yunior concludes “And thus passed old Fuckface. And thus passed the Era of Trujillo (sort of)” (155), Díaz is inevitably stepping onto the territory of Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat: the political legacy and consequences of living for thirty-one years under Trujillo’s ironclad rule (curiously, Beli’s surname, Cabral, also coincides with that of Urania’s character). And, as mentioned above, the story of Dr. Abelard Luis Cabral, so superficially acquiescent with the regime’s atrocities, is reminiscent of both Álvarez’s Enrique Mirabal and Vargas Llosa’s Agustín “Cerebrito” Cabral. An obvious difference with the latter, of course, is that Abelard never gives in to Trujillo’s lust for his daughter.
Even Vázquez Montalbán’s Galíndez, which Díaz does not mention in his novel, has points in common with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in that we never find out which one of all the versions we read about the reasons behind Dr. Abelard Luis Cabral’s imprisonment is the historical truth. The multiple perspectives in both novels leave the mysteries unresolved even though in both cases there is no question that the authors are condemning Trujillismo. But, more interestingly, in a sort of oedipal act, Díaz, this time acting as literary critic in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, openly states that Vargas Llosa’s plot is far from original:

Let’s be honest, though. The rap about The Girl Trujillo Wanted is a pretty
common one on the Island. As common as krill. (Not that krill is too common on
the Island but you get the drift). So common that Mario Vargas Llosa didn’t
have to do much except open his mouth to sift it out of the air. There’s one of
these bellaco tales in almost everybody’s hometown. It’s one of those easy
stories because in essence it explains it all. (244)

This is, in fact, a good example (in the narrative version) of Harold Bloom’s apophrades

An Unacknowledged Debt with Magical Realism

Elsewhere I have argued that one of the main real-life inspirations for Gabriel García Márquez’s tyrant in The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975) was precisely Rafael Trujillo. Along the same lines, there are alos traces of García Márquez’s writing style in Díaz’s novel. In fact, even the tone of some of the sentences in his novel seem to have been taken directly from one of García Márquez’s short stories. Compare, for example, his sentence, “Let me tell you, True Believers: in the annals of Dominican piety there has never been prayer like this” (139), with the opening sentences of “Los Funerales de la Mamá Grande”: “Ésta es, incrédulos del mundo entero, la verídica historia de la Mamá Grande, soberana absoluta del reino de Macondo, que vivió en función de dominio durante 92 años y murió en olor de santidad un martes de septiembre pasado, y a cuyos funerales vino el Sumo Pontífice” (131). In this vein, in the last paragraph of the opening chapter of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the narrator, while pondering whether the book we are reading is actually his own zafa or counterspell against fukú, confesses, “I used to be more popular in the old days, bigger, so to speak, in Macondo than in McOndo” (7). Here, he is obviously referring to the Colombian author’s magical realism as well as to the proclamation of the McOndo group led by the Chilean Alberto Fuguet, by which a group of young Latin American writers distanced themselves from the magical realist literary tradition. “Unlike the ethereal world of García Márquez’s imaginary Macondo,” argued Fuguet in 1997,

my own world is something much closer to what I call “McOndo”—a world of
McDonald’s, Macintoshes and condos. In a continent that was once ultra-
politicized, young, apolitical writers like myself are now writing without an ç
overt agenda, about their own experiences. Living in cities all over South
America, hooked on cable TV (CNN en español), addicted to movies and connected
to the Net, we are far away from the jalapeño-scented, siesta-happy atmosphere
that permeates too much of the South American literary landscape. (“I am not”
n.p.)

Instead of picturesque, exotic, tropical, underdeveloped, and rural settings dominated by magical phenomena, they propose a more “cultural realistic” approach that resorts to contemporary urban or suburban settings, popular culture, and the consequences of globalization. Fuguet, for example, has complained about the expectations that U.S. and European critics and publishing houses have of Latin American literature. When he was participating in the University of Iowa’s International Writers Program, his writings, he explains, were rejected because they lacked “magical realism”: “but the flying abuelitas and the obsessively constructed genealogies didn’t seem to fit in my work” … Add some folklore and a dash of tropical heat and come back later. That was the message I heard” (“I am not” n.p.).

Like Fuguet, Díaz’s transnational upbringing inspired a different vision of his own environment. Indeed, he coincides with the Chilean author and other writers of the McOndo group in his multiple references to popular culture (classic science fiction, comic books, sword-and-sorcery novels, old television shows, video and role-playing games, the Internet, Hollywood and anime films), including the epigraph from Fantastic Four that opens his novel. Where The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao clearly deviates from the usual topics in Fuguet’s writing, however, is in hismore openly political overtones (concentrating mostly on the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic and the atrocities committed by the Trujillo regime) and in its central focus on collective social injustices, including poverty, political oppression, and diaspora. In fact, Díaz has admitted that he has “an agenda to write politics without letting the reader think it is political” (Céspedes 901).
Moreover, Díaz’s description of the provincial city of Baní and even of the capital city of Santo Domingo in the 1940s and 1950s as well as in the 1980s and early 1990s certainly fits within “the cult of the underdeveloped” (“I am not” n.p.), as Fuguet has described magical realist writing. Likewise, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao exhibits a typically magical realist interest in the exotic world of spiritual or metaphysical phenomena. Thus, in one of the numerous metanarrative and self-reflective passages, Yunior points out, “But no matter what the truth, remember: Dominicans are Caribbean and therefore have an extraordinary tolerance for extreme phenomena. How else could we have survived what we have survived?” (149). Not surprisingly, the first paragraph of the novel offers a cultural explanation (or dictionary definition) of the traditional fukú superstition or belief: “Fukú americanus, or more colloquially, fukú—generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World.” (1). This fukú ultimately becomes the leitmotif that gives coherence to the story of the different generations of the family (and yes, the family saga, is also reminiscent of several landmark novels of Latin America’s Magical Realism) in both the Dominican Republic and the United States. The novel itself is not only presented as a fukú story but, as previously mentioned, as a zafa or counterspell against fukú. Soon, we are told that Christopher Columbus was “both its midwife and one of its great European victims” and, in another analogy between the times of the Spanish Conquest of the Caribbean and the Era of Trujillo, we learn that “No one knows whether Trujillo was the Curse’s servant or its master” (2-3).

By the same token, although in the final analysis we are left to believe that Junot Díaz and Yunior, his literary alter ego, look upon these Caribbean beliefs as skeptical and ambivalent outsiders, there is also a warning against dismissing them as myths and naïf superstitions of “backward” people. In this context, Trujillo is said to have supernatural powers: “It was believed, even in educated circles, that anyone who plotted against Trujillo would incur a fukú most powerful, down to the seventh generation and beyond” (3). In fact, one of the contrasting versions about the reasons behind Dr. Abelard Luis Cabral’s imprisonment deals with the speculation that the government had found out that he was writing a book that “was an exposé of the supernatural roots of the Trujillo regime! A book about the Dark Powers of the President, a book in which Abelard argued that the tales the common people told about the president—that he was supernatural, that he was not human—may in some ways have been true. That it was possible that Trujillo was, if not in fact, then in principle, a creature from another world!” (245). By putting these beliefs in the pen of one of the most lucid minds in the novel, Díaz instills doubt in his readers, even if the narrator half-heartedly dismisses them only a few lines later: “The Lost Final Book of Dr. Abelard Luis Cabral. I’m sure that this is nothing more than a figment of our Island’s hypertrophied woodoo imagination. And nothing less” (246).
To further mythify the figure of Trujillo, we are later told that not only did Beli’s entire family (including Oscar Wao at the end) die as the result of the dictator’s fukú but also that the Kennedy family has paid dearly for the CIA’s backing of Trujillo’s Dominican assassins: “For what Kennedy’s intelligence experts failed to tell him was what every single Dominican, from the richest jabao in Mao to the poorest güey in El Buey, from the oldest anciano sanmarcorisano to the littlest carajito in San Francisco, knew: that whoever killed Trujillo, their family would suffer a fukú so dreadful it would make the one that attached itself to the Admiral jojote in comparison” (3). Similarly, the constant reminder that many Dominicans believed in the second coming of El Jefe and that he had supernatural powers (“that he did not sleep, did not sweat, that he could see, smell, feel events hundreds of miles away, that he was protected by the most evil fukú on the Island” 226) does not help to de-mythify his image. Along the same lines, Díaz denounces the god-making sycophancy of the Dominican media by quoting from the journal La Nación in the epigraph that opens the second section: “Men are not indispensable. But Trujillo is irreplaceable. For Trujillo is not a man. He is… a cosmic force… Those who try to compare him to his ordinary contemporaries are mistaken. He belongs to… the category of those born to special destiny” (204). However, even if true to historical facts and written in a lighthearted style that the New York Times’ literary critic Michiko Kakutani has called “a streetwise brand of Spanglish,” the description of Trujillo as “the Dictatingest Dictator who ever Dictated” (80), who created an impregnable “Plátano Curtain” and had a Secret Police that was more efficient than the Stasi (“you could say a bad thing about El Jefe at eight-forty in the morning and before the clock struck ten you’d be in the Cuarenta having a cattleprod shoved up your ass” 225) also ends up contributing to magnify his aura and his stature as a quasi-mythical figure.

In this light, in many ways Díaz’s novel involuntarily perpetuates Trujillo’s myth as much if not more so than The Feast of the Goat. The fact is that perhaps the Dominican tyrant’s personality and exploits cannot be re-created easily without resorting to a vocabulary and a tone that is somehow reminiscent of Magical Realism, hence seemingly abetting his mythification and encouraging the belief that he had supernatural powers. In fact, in an interview Díaz agrees with this position: “Because without curses and alien mongooses and Sauron and Darkseid, the Trujillato cannot be accessed, eludes our ‘modern’ minds. We need these fictional lenses, otherwise It we cannot see” (O’Rourke n.p.); and he echoes the same idea in the first footnote of the novel: “At first glance, he was just your typical 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 not even a sci-fi writer could have made his ass up” (2).
Perhaps for this reason, Díaz unconsciously projects Trujillo’s evil nature beyond the human realm: “but Trujillo was too powerful, too toxic a radiation to be dispelled so easily. Even after death his evil lingered” (156). Despite possible pre-conceptions about Latin American literature, this perception of his novel as belonging to the magical realistic tradition seems to be the one reflected in several reviews, such as the ones by Kirkus, which considered it “a compelling, sex-fueled, 21st-century tragi-comedy with a magical twist” (Weich n.p.), and by A.O. Scott, of the New York Times, who describes it as “a multigenerational immigrant family chronicle that dabbles in tropical magic realism” (n.p.). And, indeed, the tropical exoticism, the hyper-violence and sensualism, the cult of Third-World underdevelopment, the incorporation of superstitions, mythical legends and popular folklore, the typical “special effects” of magical realism (where “magical” or illogical elements appear in apparently normal circumstances and characters accept them instead of questioning them) are all there.

Finally, one more literary device commonly associated with Latin American magical realism is the distortion of time, which either becomes cyclical, or stagnant, or simply disappears. This is clearly the case in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, where the present keeps imitating the past: “La Inca found herself in practically the same predicament Beli’s father had found himself in sixteen years earlier, back when the House of Cabral had first come up against the might of the Trujillos” (158). Later, Yunior alludes to this concept of circular time more explicitly: “(See the trend? Trujillo wanted the Mirabal Sisters, and the Spaniard wanted Anacaona)” (244); or

“Where did they take him Oscar? Where else. The canefields.
How’s that for eternal return?” (296)

This essay is, of course, not a negative criticism of Díaz’s debut novel, which I consider an admirable accomplishment. Other authors of what I have termed the “Trujillo cycle,” such as García Márquez in The Autumn of the Patriarch and Marcio Veloz Maggiolo in La biografía difusa de Sombra Castañeda (The Vague Biography of Sombra Castañeda; 1980) had already resorted to magical realist techniques in order to re-create the Era of Trujillo. This study simply shows that, despite the rejection from new generations of Latin American writers such as the McOndo group, there are still rescuable elements from the traditional Magical Realism that Gabriel García Márquez popularized with his On Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). In the final analysis, for all the irreverence of his prose, Junot Díaz’s approach is not as radical as he intended it to be.





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