“The beat-you-down heat was the same, and so was the fecund tropical smell that he had never forgotten, that to him was more evocative than any madeleine, and likewise the air pollution and the thousands of motos and cars and dilapidated trucks on the roads and the clusters of peddlers at every traffic light… and the general ruination of so many of the buildings as if Santo Domingo was the place that crumbled crippled concrete shells came to die…but also it seemed in many places like a whole new country was materializing atop the ruins of the old one…”1
Junot Díaz’s aptly named book follows the brief, wondrous, funny, nerdy, magical, and horrific life of Oscar Wao. The book narrates the life of Oscar, an overweight nerdy boy with a penchant for Lord of the Rings and writing science fiction, and his Dominican family who have emigrated from Santo Domingo to New Jersey. Narration jumps forwards and backwards in time, explaining the reign of Dominican dictator Rafael Truijillo – who is compared to Sauron – and how the curse of the fukú has haunted Oscar’s family for generations.
Santo Domingo is the capital and the largest city in the Dominican Republic, and it serves as one of the major settings in the novel. Alongside brief explanations of the reign of Truijillo, a real Dominican dictator who ruled for 31 years, flashbacks of Oscar’s family history are set in the capital. Nicknamed El Jefe, Truijillo was a ruthless dictator who reigned in the Dominican Republic from 1930 until he was assassinated in 1961, and is responsible for the bloodiest reign of any dictator in the Americas. He changed the name of the capital from Santo Domingo to Ciudad Trujillo in honor of himself, but the original name was restored after his assassination.
The city is the hub of the Dominican Republic’s economy. Situated next to the Ozama River, it is the main seaport for the country’s imports and exports. There is warm, tropical weather year-round, and the capital remains the oldest European settlement in the Americas.
1Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York: Riverhead, 2007. 273. Print.
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