Junot Díaz – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Excerpt)
For two days she didn’t want to believe. People were always starting rumors about everything in Santo Domingo. Didn’t want to believe that the girl could have survived, could be alive in Outer Azua, of all places!32
32. Those of you who know the Island (or are familiar with Kinito Méndez’s oeuvre) know exactly the landscape I’m talking about. These are not the campos that your folks rattle on about. These are not the guanábana campos of our dreams. Outer Azua is one of the poorest areas in the DR; it is a wasteland, our own homegrown sertão, resembled the irradiated terrains from those end-of-the-world scenarios that Oscar loved so much — Outer Azua was the Outlands, the Badlands, the Cursed Earth, the Forbidden Zone, the Great Waste, the Plains of Glass, the Burning Lands, the Doben-al, it was Salusa Secundus, it was Ceti Alpha Five, it was Tatooine. Even the residents could have passed for survivors of some not-so-distant holocaust. The poor ones — and it was with these infelices that Beli had lived often wore rags, walked around barefoot, and lived in homes that looked like they’d been constructed from the detritus of the former world. If you would have dropped Astronaut Taylor amongst these folks he would have fallen to the ground and bellowed, You finally did it! (No, Charlton, it’s not the End of the World, it’s just Outer Azua.) The only non-thorn non-insect non-lizard life-forms that thrived at these latitudes were the Alcoa mining operations and the region’s famous goats (los que brincan las Himalayas y cagan en la bandera de España).
Outer Azua was a dire wasteland indeed. My moms, a contemporary of Belicia, spent a record-breaking fifteen years in Outer Azua. And while her childhood was far nicer than Beli’s she nevertheless reports that in the early fifties these precincts were full of smoke, inbreeding, intestinal worms, twelve-year-old brides, and full on whippings. Families were Glasgow-ghetto huge because, she claims, there was nothing to do after dark and because infant mortality rates were so extreme and calamities so vast you needed a serious supply of reinforcements if you expected your line to continue. A child who hadn’t escaped a close brush with Death was looked at askance. (My mom survived a rheumatic fever that killed her favorite cousin; by the time her own fever broke and she regained consciousness, my abuelos had already bought the coffin they expected to bury her in.)
Edit the description to add:
- Historical context: the work's place in history, how it was received
- A summary of the work's overall themes (example: "Here, Byron evokes the classic struggle between virtue and temptation...")
- A description of the work's overall style and tone