Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a book this much.
I finished it this morning and have been trying to pin down why this book struck the right note.
Having talked so much about the Diaspora in the last six months, it's ironic that a book written out of the Spanish Antilles is the one that would rush past all the cliches and get it right all around. How so? The fuku that Diaz talks about is a funk that sits over the whole region- a murky history that's part of our collective unconscious.
It is sad that we are so separated by language as we desperately need writers like Diaz to resonate all throughout the islands and the various Diasporas around the world. There is seldom a false note to his narrative and his pumped-up, hip Spanglish narrative is punchy and moves effortlessly between the old and the new. It is the narrative of this generation-and by giving birth to this edgy, coked-up, violent and often heartbreakingly beautiful dialect, he is able to hit the bullseye of authenticity for a whole generation of displaced young Diasporians (is there such a word?). What the English Antilles has been fortunate to escape is the true evil of dictators- which has, unfortunately, become an occupational hazard of living in the Hispanic New World.
I truly like the use of the word Antillean- why do I prefer it to Caribbean? Who knows- it seems to bring with it messages that I need to hear in order to take my own
place in my homeland and expand upon the canon of the region.

You know you are part of the collective Antillean Diapsora- English, French or Spanish- when the language codes are the same; when Oscar falls in love with the Goth princess, La Jablesse, it means so much more to all of us who know, so too the presence of mongoose, the cane fields, the strong women, the brutality to women, the philandering men, the faceless men, the skinned goat- the whiff of voodoo/shango/santeria that is brought into the light of day, modernized and instantly recognizable by the Action Figures of the Fabulous Four and the strong magical genres of Tolkien. It all boils down to Good against Evil- the major quest story that has been the centre of most literature since time began.
Diaz covers it all with seamless prose that is like nothing that I have seen- ghetto talk mixed with the remnants of the magic realism legacy that is the heritage of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
His timing is right on the money- for all of us that loved Marquez, but KNEW in our heart of hearts that magic realism is now the literature of nostalgia, for all the writing in the English speaking Caribbean that has not taken up the gauntlet thrown down by the literary giants of the 1950s-60s. We've been talking around it for years- not knowing where to go next- Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Junot Diaz for pointing us all in the right direction and doing more for the region than anything CARICOM could ever have dreamed up.
The interview below is interesting to look at because I like to hear the voice of an author- and his fascination with the lost periods- I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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