The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, from the perspective of a literary work is phenomenally amusing and impossible to put down, albeit its plot describes more sadness, despair and cruelty than a single lifetime can absorb. It’s evident the Pulitzer Prize was well deserved. Mr. Diaz’s technique, the suspense, his use of space, his character development, his vocabulary and his myriad references to other works are impressive. Unmistakably, the author must be a competent professor of creative writing judging by his own genius, hopefully generous of both, his time and his extensive fountain of knowledge. We should look forward to a good number of well-skilled writers spawning from his classes at MIT.
The author delivers an acrid and satirical commentary on the Dominican Republic’s peculiar habit of differentiating individuals by gradations of their skin color and their generational distance from a mythical, unmixed white race. Some of his commentaries may appear at times unforgiving, depicting a group of people filled with large doses of anger, hatred and contempt, hopefully excreted since the end of the Trujillo era of abuse. This by no means would be the image of the DR an outsider brings home. As a point of interest though, it’s curious that by the large number of references in the story, Mr. Diaz seems as obsessed with Cuba and Havana as he is with the documented and undocumented Haitians inhabiting the island on the DR side.
An academic from one of the most prestigious universities across the globe, his pulpit is not a shabby vantage point from which to lob criticism of both cultures, the US’ and DR’s. His social commentary is well delivered because with apparent humor the reader is more receptive to a writer’s arguments. The author’s anecdotes and descriptions are astutely woven into his tale, working to raise the public’s awareness of historical facts, eliciting the reader’s desire to rail against the pervasive social issues that at first appear to be unique to the DR and its people, although as we separate from the narrative and gain some distance from its central focus, they acquire more universal themes for the region: abuse of power, totalitarianism, violence, cruelty, alienation, injustice, poverty, repression and impotence on the part of an individual and his family desperately trying to survive surrounded by all this hostility.
As a non-Dominican, this reader finds Mr. Diaz’s constant use of the forbidden N word offensive, not for the word itself, as words only have the meaning we attribute to them, but because being of color does not give anyone license to offend others repeatedly. For logical reasons, this recurrent use of the N word causes one to question whether the author means to use the American meaning of the word, historically filled with loathing and prejudice, or the more benign Spanish meaning of the word, a mere reference to an individual’s skin color devoid of social rancor, used merely as an adjective among friends of different races generally showcasing the affection and friendship that unites them.
One question this reader would like to direct at the author is whether he’s aware of the manner in which his description of the Failed Horse Thief who governed the DR for thirty-some years, the despot considering the country his exclusive fiefdom at the expense of everyone’s liberty and well-being are not exactly as the current conditions in the Cuba to which he refers so often in his narration, a repressive system spanning by now more than fifty-five years of assassinations, firing squads, disappearances, incarceration, torture and disturbing violations of the individual rights of thirteen million people, the systematic annihilation of the country’s social institutions, its cultural heritage, its economic system, and its history, everything that makes anyone’s and everyone’s daily survival hinge upon the whims of a monstrous clan and the sycophants who do their dirty work in and outside the enslaved island country.