Book Notes: Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I read the novel on my flight back from Seattle just to find out if the author even has any literary talent or I am wasting my time defending him. I mean, if he’s not talented, then screw him. Let him be eviscerated if that pleases the consuming public.

In case you don’t know, Junot Diaz writes immigrant lit. In order to be successful in this genre, you need to be as slobberingly, pitifully servile to your US readers as it is humanly possible. You know those stray dogs who are so desperate to be thrown a few scraps that they roll on their backs, lick your arm, and affect cuteness and helplessness to appeal to your sense of disgusted pity? That’s what this genre is like.

All immigrant communities produce authors in this genre but some are much more successful than others. Russian-speaking authors stink to high hell at immigrant lit. They don’t make convincing victims. They can’t use the n-word on every page. They don’t have an appealing dictatorship to bitch about. I mean, they do have a dictatorship to put all other dictatorships to shame but it’s not the dictatorship that you are allowed to mention in a book addressed to leftie readers. And that’s who the genre targets. Whatever you do, don’t rub the Assistant profs at Vassar and Princeton the wrong way. They need to be able to pity you, so make yourself pitiful, lick their feet and wag your tail like you mean it.

Russian-speaking authors of immigrant lit suck at this game. It’s much easier for Latin Americans to play it because everybody at the English lit department at Pomona is used to seeing Hispanic maids and gardeners and finds it easy to slip into the pity mode the moment a Spanish-sounding name is uttered.

Junot Diaz’s success demonstrates that he mastered the rules of the game very well. The only problem is that, the moment you decide to play, you set yourself up for the moment when you will be outvictimed by a more pitiful and fashionable victim. And then you’ll be eviscerated by the formerly contented readers who will suddenly realize they have wasted their milk of human kindness on somebody who is not the victimest victim at all. And that will make them very, very angry. They believe they are entitled to real, high-quality, first-class victims. Being cheated of pitying elite status victims makes them quite loopy.

And this is what happened to Junot Diaz. Poor bugger has been outvictimed and is now shunned as the unfair recipient of the pity he wasn’t entitled to. Or defended as somebody who did deserve the pity after all. For those of you who don’t know, a debate is currently raging in academia and in the media as to whether he’s the victimest victim of the greatest victimization or not.

As for the question of whether he has talent, after reading the novel I can say that it’s not unlikely but in order for us to find out, he should stop ingratiating himself with the sated and fickle lefties, drop the immigrant lit genre, stop trying to sell “identity” and victimization, and finally start writing.

But hey, within the genre, it’s as good a novel as any. A cute airport read, but only if it’s your first ever book in this genre. After reading one immigrant lit gem, you’ve got to have ulterior motive to pick up the second one because they are all as identical as their target readers.


9 thoughts on “Book Notes: Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”

  1. Book trades in some D.R.-as-hell stereotypes that make it not quite convincing / too pat as text, I feel, but I thought it had more verve than Drown (his first book of stories). The next book is apparently therapy-driven, and now there’s a children’s book. I’ll be curious to see what follows.


      1. That reminds me of the time my abuela called to the mesa so I could have desayuno, she had saved months so she could treat me to cornflakes con leche, but I was in my habitacion reading fotonovelas when native born american threw a firebomb into the casa just before la policia burst in the puerta and their perros attacked me just before they planted drogas in my pantaolones and then arrested me. Now I sit in the carcel where they serve cornflakes con leche every manana….


              1. “I’m not sorry for you at all. So no award”

                !Carajo! What a maldito country that refuses to oppress me! Did I mention that a big perro looked at me and growled? Did I forget to mention the hombre desgraciado with a Trump t-shirt who threw naranjas at me?


              2. You see? You completely forgot to mention the suffering of the naranja-collecting undocumented laborers. Check your privilege, hombre!


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