At Home in Global America: Junot Diaz (Part II)

junotcropped1The most wondrously imagined characters in Junot Diaz’s new novel are its women: Oscar’s goth, “tougher than adamantine” sister Lola, and their mother Belicia. Mami is a shipwreck of female beauty, cancer-ridden and foul-spirited. But once she was astonishingly attractive and lusty, “allergic to tranquilidad,” and her parents were rich and connected. This, too, is history that Belicia barely grasps, that her children are never told about their dying battle-ax mom who berates them in Perth Amboy, N.J. As a 16 year old in the Dominican Republic, we learn in a long flashback narrative, Belicia followed her girlish heart into love and battle with a goon and gangster who just happened to be married to Trujillo’s sister. The affair ends with a savage beating, one of three horrific canefield assaults in the book. Irreparably damaged, Belicia makes her escape to New York:

She is sixteen and her skin is the darkness before the black, the plum of the day’s last light, her breasts like sunsets trapped beneath her skin, but for all her youth and beauty she has a sour distrusting expression that only dissolves under the weight of intense pleasure. Her dreams are spare, lack the propulsion of a mission, her ambition is without traction. Her fiercest hope? That she will find a man. What she doesn’t yet know: the cold, the backbreaking drudgery of the factorias, the loneliness of Diaspora, that she will never again live in Santo Domingo, her own heart. What else she doesn’t know: that the man next to her would end up being her husband and the father of her two children, that after two years together, he would leave her, her third and final heartbreak, and she would never love again.

Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

In our conversation, Junot Diaz speaks of Belicia as a version of his parents’ generation — “our greatest generation [who] suffered so cruelly and created a community for us in America… and founded a dynasty”:

And continue, please, with Part III.

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