December 27, 2009


Just one sentence from Junot Diaz's remarkable first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007):
After his initial homecoming week, after he'd been taken to a bunch of sights by his cousins, after he'd gotten somewhat used to the scorching weather and the surprise of waking up to the roosters and being called Huáscar by everybody (that was his Dominican name, something else he'd forgotten), after he refused to succumb to that whisper that all long-term immigrants carry inside themselves, the whisper that says You do not belong, after he'd gone to about fifty clubs and because he couldn't dance sala, merengue, or bachata had sat an drunk Presidentes while Lola and his cousins burned holes in the floor, after he'd explained to people a hundred times that he'd been separated from his sister at birth, after he spent a couple of quiet mornings on his own, writing, after he'd given out all his taxi money to beggars and had to call his cousin Pedro Pablo to pick him up, after he'd watched shirtless shoeless seven-year-olds fighting each other for the scraps he'd left on this plate at an outdoor café, after his mother took them all to dinner in the Zona Colonial and the waiters kept looking at their party askance (Watch out Mom, Lola said, they probably think you're Haitian – La única haitiana aquí eres tú, mi amor, she retorted), after a skeletal vieja grabbed both his hands and begged him for a penny, after his sister had said, You think that's bad, you should see the bateys, after he's spent a day in Baní (the campo where La Inca had been raised) and he'd taken a dump in a latrine and wiped his ass with a corn cob – now that's entertainment, he wrote in his journal – after he'd gotten somewhat used to the surreal whirligig that was life in La Capital – the guaguas, the cops, the mind-boggling poverty, the Dunkin' Donuts, the beggars, the Haitians selling roasted peanuts in the intersections, the mind-boggling poverty, the asshole tourists hogging up all the beaches, the Xica de Silva novelas where homegirl got naked every five seconds that Lola and his female cousins were cracked on, the afternoon walks on the Conde, the mind-boggling poverty, the snarl of streets and rusting zinc shacks that were the barrios populares, the mass of niggers he waded through every day who ran over him if he stood still, the skinny watchmen standing in front of stores with their brokedown shotguns, the music, the raunchy jokes he heard on the streets, the mind-boggling poverty, being piledrived into the corner of a concho by the combined weight of four other customers, the music, the new tunnels driving down into the bauxite earth, the signs that banned donkey carts from the same tunnels – after he'd bone to Bona Chica and Villa Mella and eaten so much chicharrones he had to throw up on the side of the road – now that, his tío Rudolfo sad, is entertainment – after his tío Carlos Moya berated him for having stayed away so long, after his abuela berated him for having stayed away so long, after he saw again the unforgettable beauty of the Cibao, after he heard the stories about his mother, after he stopped marveling at the amount of political propaganda plastered up on every spare wall – ladrones, his mother announched, one and all – after the touched-in-the-head tío who'd been tortured during Balaguer's reign came over and got into a heated political argument with Carlos Moya (after which they'd both got drunk), after he'd caught his first sunburn in Boca Chica, after he's swum in the Caribbean, after tío Rudolfo had gotten him blasted on mamajuana de marisco, after he'd seen his first Haitians kicked off a guagua because niggers claimed they "smelled," after he'd nearly gone nuts over all the bellezas he saw, after he helped his mother install two new air conditioners and crushed his finger so bad he had dark blood under the nail, after all the gifts they'd brought had been properly distributed, after Lola introduced him to the boyfriend she'd dated as a teenager, now a capatileño as well, after he'd seen the pictures of Lola in her private-school uniform, a tall muchacha with heartbreak eyes, after he'd brought flowers to his abuela's number-one servant's grave who had taken care of him when he was little, after he had diarrhea so bad his mouth watered before each detonation, after he'd visited all the rinky-dink museums in the capital with his sister, after he stopped being dismayed that everybody called him gordo (and, worse, gringo), after he'd been overcharged for almost everything he wanted to buy, after La Inca prayed over him nearly every morning, after he caught a cold because his abuela set the air conditioner in the room so high, he decided suddenly and without warning to stay on the Island for the rest of the sumer with his mother and his tío.

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