The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Magical Realism and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Magical realism (also known as magic realism) is a stylistic mode that Díaz plays with throughout the novel, mixing the starkly realistic with the fantastical. Through Díaz’s constant reference to what he refers to as Genre (fantasy, science fiction, and comic books), Díaz not only alludes to texts from those genres, but he integrates their magical natures into his novel. Interestingly, Díaz’s use of these genres also brings a mix of United States pop culture into a story that is nominally Dominican, and the mix of the two emphasizes the diaspora aspect of the story. Oscar, Yunior, Belicia, and Lola are all caught between the two different worlds, and Yunior’s style of narration captures both discourses.

Magical realism is known as a primarily Latin American form of writing, although, more recently it has been explored by writers of other nationalities as well (for example, Jonathan Saffron Foer’s novel Everything is Illuminated fits well into the genre, perhaps because there is an element of diaspora to the story). Magical realism became a genre in the 1940s, and Latino/a authors that are commonly characterized as magical realists are Isabel Allende (Chilean), Jorge Luis Borges (Argentine) and Gabriel García Márquez (Columbian). Some scholars make the claim that magical realism is so closely related to Latino/a writing because this style of narration is the most natural way to write in a post-colonial world, where two realities, that of the conqueror and conquered, have to be reconciled. One criticism of magical realism is that it portrays Latin culture as exotic, and sometimes becomes a gimmick and a marketing tool rather than a stylistic mode of creating subversive literature.

In the prologue, Yunior references Márquez’s novel Cien Años de Soledad (1967; 100 Years of Solitude) in his discussion the “counterspell [sic]” to fukú. Yunior says, “[Zafa] used to be more popular in the old days, bigger, so to speak, in Macondo than in McOndo.” Macondo is the small town featured in 100 years of Solitude. McOndo is a literary movement that breaks from magical realism and focuses more on the Latin and Latin American experience of urban lifestyles. Using zafa as a counterspell is associated with small towns and with being “old school”—but Yunior also brings it into the present, where he lives an urban lifestyle. Díaz’s allusion to Marquez’s text does not end there; the story itself reflects Marquez’s characters, who also live under a curse that continues through successive generations due to the characters’ ignorance of the previous generation’s suffering.

In one interview, Díaz stated that the character that is closest to being from his life for him is the Mongoose, because the Mongoose is part of an old family story. Díaz says the Mongoose saved his mother. He makes this claim as a matter-of-fact, just another part of life. In the novel, however, Yunior warns the readers that they may not be able to believe what happens next (before we meet the Mongoose for the first time) but asserts that it is the truth as was told to him. Thus, Díaz’s work differs from other earlier works that use magical realism, because Díaz chooses not to seamlessly integrate the magical into the realist. Instead, Díaz draws our attention to the magical, almost challenging us not to believe in it, but at the same time stating that it is the truth. Díaz’s departure from the traditional use of magical realism also emphasizes the difference between telling a story from a diasporic point of view, something that does not occur in the novels that are classified in the genre.

As the narrator, Yunior seems to enjoy using magical elements to fill in the páginas en blanco that are left by the voluntary amnesia of the characters, as well as the lack and loss of recorded history. The magical aspect allows Yunior to use his imagination to recreate the details, thus filling in some of the blank pages and the silences.