Students gathered in the Business Building lounge on Thursday, Feb. 6, for a festive close reading by professor John Landreau about the novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Díaz.
Díaz is a Dominican-American writer who won a Pulitzer for fiction in 2008.
Landreau explained that the novel tells three beautifully described and tragic intertwined stories that are narrated by Yunior, a Dominican from Paterson, N.J. who decided he needed to research and retell the life of Oscar Wao, a Dominican who was killed at the age of 23. Landreau explained that the novel implies that Yunior spent years compiling research on Wao’s life.
The first story of the novel is the retelling of Oscar Wao’s life.
“Oscar was an outlier, who sometimes would wear an out-of-style afro,” Landreau said.
He was socially introverted, overweight and was deemed a “nerd” who read and wrote science fiction and fantasy novels.
“Oscar had two goals in life,” Landreau said. “Oscar wanted to become the ‘Dominican Tolkien’ and he wanted to fall in love.”
Ultimately, Oscar fell in love. He fell for a 37-year-old partly retired prostitute. This woman was also Oscar’s undoing. Oscar was shot in a sugarcane field for having an affair with her.
The reconstruction of the Dominican dictatorship and Dominican history that takes a reader as far back as the arrival of Christopher Columbus is the second story found in the novel.
“Oscar is a small story of a really big story in the Dominican history,” Landreau said.
The third story is the one that Landreau deemed the most important, despite being obliquely told: Yunior’s story. Through much of the novel, Landreau described Yunior as being having an “ugly” personality that was very self-oriented.
“Oscar taught Yunior what it means to be a Dominican and also how to be a man,” Landreau said.
The actual multi-layered plotline is only one incredible aspect of Díaz’s novel. Díaz wrote this historical work with a fantasy-driven twist and utilized multiple languages.
“A reader cannot know all of the settings, characters and places,” Landreau said.
The book makes references to multiple comic book characters and even “The Lord of the Rings” to help further explain the unimaginable and horrific circumstances that the Dominican people faced under dictatorship.
The bilingual aspect of the novel and lack of translation allows readers to walk away from the novel with different views.
“The reader enters the world as a disoriented immigrant and the book orients the reader with both familiar and unfamiliar language,” Landreau said. “It is just a wild ride.”