Brief Life of Oscar Wao
I have always wondered how stories from the past have been kept alive so that people today can hear about them. I know Moses was not walking around Egypt with his laptop typing his experiences so that we could learn about them today. Although this example is thousands of years old, I have the same curiosity about events that have happened more recently. For example, during the Second World War, the Germans were highly organized and made to sure not to keep a paper trail so the world would not know what was happening. However, while I was in Poland I heard the stories and experience from the survivors themselves and it enhanced my connection and made their history more of a reality. In the book, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” by Junot Diaz, the narrator of the story, Yunior, attempts to give the reader the same sense of living history through first hand accounts, personal stories and memories he gained from Oscar. Although these stories have been passed on through families it does not always mean the stories being told are fully accurate. There are still some empty spaces in these stories that cannot be filled because of the discrepancies that have occurred through the passing of the stories from generation to generation. For example, we see in one instance that the story of Abelard can end in different ways but we still receive knowledge about the Trujillo dictatorship. Towards the end of the novel Yunior is not fully sure what Oscar’s intentions were with his writings, which is why the page is kept blank. This adds to the idea that even though stories are being passed on through families, there will always be tiny holes. However, even though it’s similar to an interpration of the story and not fully accurate, the personal stories and memories provided by Yunior allow the reader to have a clearer understanding of what happened during that historical time. The idea of learning and examining the past in a time when no records were kept, where the only way to pass on a story was via word of mouth, is one of the main themes brought up throughout the book. In the prelude, before the book begins, Yunior brings up the idea of the past being prevalent today through the passing of stories within one’s family. The first thing Yunior accomplishes is informing the reader what a fuku and zafa are, which happen to effect every aspect of the book. Yunior says, “Everybody in Santa Domingo has a fuku story knocking around in their family”(5). According to Yunior, every family has their own fuku story that also relates to the culture of the Dominican Republic. He continues to say, “As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I have a fuku story too”(6). Yunior’s main point in his introduction is to inform the reader that they are about to read his own fuku, not to be entertained by it, but to simply share a families story through a dark stage of history. He says, “It just happens to be the one that’s got its fingers around my throat”(7). He explains how before he published the book to the public, he posted a thread about fuku on the internet and since then people from all over the world have been sharing their stories with him about a fuku. He says, “Even my mother, who almost never talks about Santo Domingo, has started sharing hers with me”(6). From this point the book intrigued me because just by Yunior posting a little thread on the Internet about this time of secrecy, people are coming out and are starting to open up. The fact that people are intrigued by a supernatural curse and story about a nerdy boy shows how rare it is for people to hear a story from that time. Yunior mentioned earlier how some people don’t even believe in the fuku or zafa but by him saying that “Even now as I write these words I wonder if this book ain’t a zafa of sorts”(7) the story comes alive and makes the reader excited to learn about his personal story while still eager to learn about the history behind the story. An instance in the book where the reader learns about the culture of the Dominican while continuously discovering parts of Yunior’s story comes when Yunior tells the story of Abelard and his family. The story sheds light on how the dictator Trujillo controlled and manipulated his citizens, which ultimately leads to a big part of the story when we discover Abelard’s last child, who was considered a curse ended up being Oscar and Lola’s mother. Yunior wants to teach the reader that the Trujillo regime was very oppressive and controlling. Yunior calls Trujillo not only a dictator, but also a “Dominican Dictator”(216) because of his love for women and sex, which plays along the stereotype that most Dominican men love women and sex. If Trujillo wanted something, like a female, he would take her and according to Yunior “…there would be nothing you [could] do about it”(217). Contrary to Abelard’s desire, Trujillo ends up finding about his beautiful daughter and Abelard ends up in jail. Eventually, everyone in Abelard’s family suffers a freakish death leaving only Abelard in jail and a third daughter born just before his wife’s death. They end up sending the baby away - who was considered a curse at the time because of her physical qualities. Eventually, the baby ends up with La Inca and later becomes the mother of Oscar and Lola. Once Yunior finishes telling the story, the gray area between what actually happened and what supposedly happened begins to become clearer. Yunior also states that there could be a completely different story about Abelard that did not relate to his daughter but had to do with a book he wrote about the Trujillo Regime that had still led to the same outcomes in the end. Yunior explains that because nothing was documented at the time and there was no trace of Abelard’s writing, no one really knows the truth about what happened to Abelard and his family. Yunior in the beginning of the book said how this gray area would happen throughout the book because his story is merely an interpretation of everything he has heard and read, leaving space for misinformation and holes. Yunior ends the chapter by saying, “But hey, it’s only a story, with no solid evidence, the kind of shit only a nerd could love”(246). Yunior is telling the story from Oscar’s writings while trying to incorporate how Oscar would feel. He adds the part about being a nerd because he knew Oscar was a nerd and would rather use the second story of Abelard rather than the first one. Although the reader will never know what happened to Abelard, Beli grew up with La Inca and ended up raising Oscar and Lola. Also, we develop a better understanding of the culture of the Dominican Republic and Trujillo’s regime through the story of Oscar’s family, dating back to his mother’s childhood. Eight months after Oscar died Yunior received a letter from him addressed to Lola. In the letter, Oscar talked about his journeys so far and also talked about a book he had been reading. He also said that they should expect to receive another package from Oscar that contains everything he witnessed and wanted to put on paper for his family to know. Oscar, toward the end of his first letter to Lola, said that the story is, “the cure to what ails us...The Cosmo DNA”(333). Just like the novel begins with Yunior explaining how writing this story could be his zafa for his family, Oscar believed that before he died, by sharing the stories of his family and culture, there would be a zafa over his family as well. They both believe that by telling stories about their families and country’s history, the truth could come out and transparency could take hold in the Dominican. Furthermore, by talking about the curses and bringing them to the public for everyone to know about, they believe zafas will protect their families. Oscar wanted his family back at home to know what happened to him so they could pass on his stories and memories. However, the package containing the final letter never made it to Yunior and Lola. At the point where they could have received all the answers to their family’s troubles, the letter never arrived. The way Diaz ended the novel shows how history will always be passed on through stories. However, the history that is passed on by word of mouth will always have holes. Even if one is listening to a first hand account being passed on through a family, there will always be holes in history and in what is known since it isn’t a first hand experience. Diaz solidifies this point by making Oscar’s final letter disappear. The letter that could have cured his family and explained his past ends up not being delivered. Diaz does this on purpose to make the reader think what else could have been said in Oscar’s letter. The holes in history are there for a purpose and Diaz wants us to find the truth for ourselves. This is why history is so valuable, because without it we cannot learn from mistakes or prepare for future endeavors. History is sacred, and no one understands that better then Oscar Wao and Junot Diaz. When an author is capable of making history feel like a reality, readers gain perspective and obtain a slightly heightened understanding of history. The holes left in history books leave people to ponder and make guesses as to what colorful events may have occurred within the gray areas, but it is the general concepts behind these orally passed stories that are truly invaluable. The fact is that perhaps even more can be learned through lesser-known family stories and oral traditions than any history book could teach. “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz is a story that not only shares the stories of Yunior, but allows readers to use their creative imagery to create a heightened understanding of historic events.