Junot Díaz expertly captures the languages, landscapes and folk tales of the Modern diaspora experience laying out his stake in the multi-generational family epic genre. And don’t get your wires crossed, this isn’t just urban fiction, sci-fi, magical realism, Spanglish 101 or the Postmodern Hemingway; this is an American tale of stitched family histories.
It’s also a tale of crash and burn and crash (again). In most cases, when speaking of the Latino immigrant experience, these tales rely on familiar tropes: the drug addict, the (reformed) gang member, the single mother, the drug addict, the sellout sibling, or the tragic artist. Díaz brings a new player into this mix, the fringe player every ethnic sub-group shuns, the unattractive non-conformist, and gives him a back story that is unique and complex but accessible.
More than anything, I’m drawn to Oscar Wao’s lingua franca, a mix of Spanish, New Hersee Quisqueyano, Hardcore Nerd, and Ghetto delivered and defined by English sentence structure, and the manner it reflects not just our narrator’s background but his world view. “Only what I can carry,” is not just a mantra from the later chapters but also speaks to the languages each character accesses.
I would have liked to see a more balanced view between DR and Jersey. In Oscar Wao’s world a social system where families fight violence and feel disenfranchised from the ruling political structure, men are unjustly imprisoned, and women are sexual pawns is something that only happens back on the Island, while in America we honestly bust our asses and get just a little ahead in the game with only the threat of catcalls and verbal harassment holding us back. To quote Yunior, “Negro, please.”
After the success of Drown and the accolades from Oscar Wao I am very curious to see what Junot Díaz will deliver next. If it’s anything like the rich text and interesting plot turns that shines a new spotlight on what it means to be and saty familia through a crazy national and personal history, I’m there.
[A report of Junot Díaz reading from Oscar Wao in Oakland and his follow-up Q&A can be found here.]