Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Culture > Entertainment

Understanding Generational Trauma Through Storytelling: Junot Diaz Wow’s us with his novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

For those of you who aren’t die-hard English majors or book nerds, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz will have you immediately invested in the de Léon family and their intergenerational politics. The novel is a work of fiction but is set partially during the reign of Rafael Trujillo (El Jefe) in the Dominican Republic. With all its complexities, Diaz’s book is an excellent embodiment of the maximalist novel in auto-ethnographic multicultural literature. 

“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” was Diaz’s first novel, and it received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and Time Magazine’s Book of The Year, alongside other awards. Elements of his novel were inspired by Diaz’s background being from the Dominican Republic himself. Maximalist fiction is a writing style that is largely associated with the postmodern literary movement that is defined by length, encyclopedic mode, dissonant chorality, diegetic exuberance, completeness, narrational omnipresence, paranoid imagination, etc. 

Diaz doesn’t stop there; additionally, his use of historiographic metafiction was a key element in classifying his novel as multicultural work. Historiographic metafiction allowed him to explore histories in a fictional matter and leave room for interpretation. Diaz could delay various aspects of an unfolding story and keep readers at the edge of their seats, trying to piece everything together while also reserving a seat as the narrator (Yunior) and maintaining a peculiar distance from the stories themselves as the story is told in non-chronological order. Furthermore, Diaz’s effective use of diegetic exuberance and completeness really allows him to place himself strategically as the storyteller. We are introduced to a bold personality type very early on, whose commentary is generally appealing to his audience (and not just specific cultural groups). There are so many classic Yunior quotes to draw from in this novel.

 “Later, when he thought about it, he realized that these very cousins could probably have gotten him laid if only he’d bothered to hang out with them. But after all, you can’t regret a life you didn’t lead” (page 31), and “Her girls were not too smart, but they were fine as shit: the sort of hot-as-balls Latinas who only dated weight-lifting morenos or Latino acts with guns in their cribs” (page25), to name a couple.

Diaz’s typography use was also unique, with titles for various sections within chapters and characters causing narrative overgrowth. Furthermore, this narrative overgrowth was contained by Yunior’s jaunty personality and structure-curated narrative patterns and had readers buckled in for the ride. His effective use of Heteroglossia through footnotes was a useful tool in his multicultural work, allowing readers to engage in jargon, cultural artifacts, and histories in a way that didn’t leave them out.

Diaz’s use of narrative overgrowth, narratorial omniscience, and unique titling in the chapter “Poor Abelard” was a grand culmination of maximalist elements coming together and thus making the chapter an indispensable mechanism in making a grand revelation to readers. Here, we learn that Abelard’s eldest daughter “…had caught a serious case of the hips-ass-chest, a condition which during the mid-forties spelled trouble with a capital T to the R to the U to the J to the illo” and that he “believed that all the toto in the D.R. was literally, his” (page 216). 

Furthermore, Diaz’s incorporation of “Fukú” in this novel as a curse placed upon his family is referred to many times throughout the novel, giving a name to the looming idea that everything is intertwined, which is reaffirmed through the revelations made during this chapter.  The incorporation of paranoid imagination in multicultural work, I believe, is crucial because it allows authors of various cultures to present their traditional beliefs and fantastical stories, as opposed to the Western canonical folklore or mystical forces that we’re used to, and prompts thinking about some aspects of a culture that aren’t our own as exemplified through the “Fukú” curse. Everyone may not hold the same beliefs. However, being able to explore them through historiographic metafiction allows Diaz to describe the Fuku curse seamlessly and arguably gain respect for the concept throughout the novel. 

Yunior would likely think I said too much already and just need to get to the point. This is a book worth owning. The novel is currently available as an ebook on the Kindle store for $13.99, and the paperback is available for the same price at Barnes and Noble.

Stephanie Sika

CU Boulder '24

Stephanie Dzidzor Sika, who goes by Sika, is a Ghanaian-American first generation college student at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her hobbies include dancing, cooking, and writing. Sika is working actively towards informing, sharing, and loving by way of her work as much as she can.