One of the many joys of preparing to be an English teacher is the vast amount of new texts to which I am exposed. Within the past several months, my favorite new text would have to be The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, written by Junot Diaz. The plot and characters were enjoyable enough, but the aspect of this novel that sets it apart from many others are the humorous, introspective footnotes provided by Yunior, the novel’s macho narrator. These footnotes included a more detailed history of the Dominican Republic than what I learned in Global or U.S. history. This point is not missed by the narrator as he scolds American teaching of his native land.
The Dominican Republic has lengthy and rich history. Civilization existed before European interests began colonizing the Americas and several European nations (France and Spain to name a couple) colonized the Dominican Republic. In the early 1900’s, under Teddy Roosevelt’s direction, The United States occupied the nation and maintained control until resistance from both the Dominican and United States populations led to President Wilson withdrawing the troops. The heart of the Dominican History addressed in the story lays at the feet of one of the most notorious dictators in history: Trujillo or “El Jefe”. Much of Oscar’s family’s fate was influenced by the ruler himself. Thus, culture and history make their way into the English classroom. What’s more, this novel does not feature only U.S. culture, but also addresses the relatively unknown history and culture of the Dominican Republic in a classroom long ruled by dead white men.
The novel features both flashforwards and flashbacks (prolepsis and analepsis). That way, readers are exposed to the horror of Trujillo’s regime and also the more modern Dominican Republic. The modern portrayal of the D.R. as it is affectionately referred to throughout the text is difficult to miss. Fast food chains and skyscrapers are depicted as invading the prime real estate in the Dominican Republic, while more rural and local areas of the nation are portrayed as ruinous and in plots of land that hold little to no value. Highlighting the greedy nature of capitalism and the fact that it is impossible to stop its spread.
This book encourage me to study another culture, delve into another type of lifestyle with many similarities, but also many differences when compared to my own. I highly recommend this text to enthusiastic and casual readers alike. For more information regarding this novel or the history of the Dominican Republic, check out these links: