A Dominicano conquers La-La Land

It’s not every day that you see Caribbean and L.A. in the same sentence but Junot Diaz, a young, MIT professor from the Dominican Republic, is making waves in “Mexican” L.A.  Diaz, the New Jersey-raised writer who was awarded this year’s Pulitzer for fiction, for his first novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” must have a lot of fans in L.A.  Diaz’s book, which has made it on numerous bestseller lists across the country–including the New York Times’ list, has been on the L.A. Times bestseller list for the past 20 weeks.

It’s not surprising that Diaz’s book has been in the top 25 of the New York Times bestseller list since it was first published (the list compiles book sales from book stores across the country).  The book is a brilliant read.  What’s striking and nice to see is that it is doing quite well in L.A. (the L.A. Times bestseller list compiles book sales of book stores located only in southern California).  And while in this past Sunday’s list “Oscar Wao” ranked #19 on the New York Times list, it ranked #6 on the L.A. Times list (up from #8 on Jun 8).  Who says Angelenos don’t read?  If Angelenos of all cultures are reading this book, we’ll all be better for it.

I finally finished reading Diaz’s book earlier this year, and as many of my friends already know, I highly recommend it.  My motivation for picking up the book in the first place was politics.  I’m a history and political junkie and I had read that this novel had something to do with the Dominican Republic.  I’ve been to the DR a few times, and the culture and people of that country have always fascinated me.  When Junot Diaz came down to Miami for a book signing last year, I went not only to listen to his reading but also to buy the book.  I had the pleasure of meeting Diaz at that Miami book signing, and it was then that I realized that this Dominican could teach a lot of Americans a thing or two about growing up in America.

Yes, perhaps I was selfishly thinking about my marketing profession, and Hispanic marketing in particular, but I hope Americans of every color and profession discover this book because it touches on so many themes.  Clearly, if you’re intrigued by history–especially about the Dominican Republic’s living hell under the Trujillo dictatorship–you will not be disappointed (you won’t have to read any other book about the DR’s history).  But you will also learn about the immigrant experience in the U.S., about the Diaspora, and about the mysteries and richness of Latin Caribbean culture (yes, there’s more to it than just salsa and reggaeton).

However, what intrigues me the most about Diaz’s book is it’s attitude and style, and why it has relevance for the readers of this blog.  Rather than try making my point, I’ll just defer to the New York Times’ celebrated book reviewer Michiko Kakutani, who did it quite eloquently.  She describes Diaz’s writing as “a sort of streetwise brand of Spanglish that even the most monolingual reader can easily inhale: lots of flash words and razzle-dazzle talk, lots of body language on the sentences, lots of David Foster Wallace-esque footnotes and asides.”  For those of you who need a hint (especially if you’re still wondering where the Oscar Wao comes from): Oscar Wao is a play on how a Dominican might pronounce the English writer Oscar Wilde’s name–I’m telling you, Diaz is making a name for himself as an American literary genius!  And Diaz recently signed a movie deal with “Oscar Wao.”

What is so powerful about seeing Latinos triumph on Broadway this year (“In the Heights”), or winning Pulitzers, is that these are Latinos telling their own stories, in their own manner, and Americans of all stripes are seeing and hearing them.  It is great to see another Caribbean son make it big in the Big Apple and in La-La Land, this country’s two multicultural megapolises.  We will all learn from Diaz.  Now go out and buy his book if you haven’t already!

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