The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has attained both popular and critical acclaim. The novel is a melange of several interesting stylistic features. It brings social history, science fiction and magical fantasy all together in an experimental narrative form. The copious use of footnotes and imaginative asides are also notable. The novel is also an exposition on Dominican culture, especially with respect to notions of masculinity. It is held in Dominican culture that supernatural curses (fukus) and remedies (zafas) are integral parts of an individual’s life. Sometimes these fukus can get transferred across various generations of a family. While factually speaking these are no more than superstitions, for the natives, they are an integral part of life. Dominicans treats fukus and zafas as if they are divine revelations. This essay will delve into some of the perceived instances of fuku in the story of Oscar Wao and how some of them are resolved through the grace of zafas.
At the very beginning of the novel the omniscient narrator identified as Yunior mentions the idea of a fuku as a curse that runs through family lineage. A steady stream of native Dominicans had migrated to the United States in the twentieth century. Among this community of immigrants, of which Oscar Wao is one, a legend has grown that their entry to the New World had brought upon them a fuku. Every member of the community is hurdled with a handful of fukus, which they seek to overcome through the zafa, which purportedly counters the fuku. For example Yunior notes how angering Trujillo could prove disastrous for the plotter, leading to enduring fukus that remain in effect across generations. Indeed, Trujillo and fuku are almost treated as synonyms in the novel. It is not until the decisive defeat and assassination of Trujillo that Oscar and his lot could feel safe from retributive fukus in the future. The omniscient narrator Yunior hints in the opening pages that the story that is to unfold is analogous to a longwinded zafa. At the beginning of the novel, the narrator tries to understand the curse’s origin:
“They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fukú americanus, or more colloquially, fukú-generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World.” (Diaz 1)
Since the novel liberally uses a magic realistic style, it borrows from a classic of the genre – One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Hence the plot sets numerous fukus for the characters, which they resolve through zafas later in the story. For example, when Belicia and Lola get into trouble, it is the divine mongoose that rescues them miraculously. In Belicia’s case, she was lying in a bad shape in the cane field when the mongoose angelically appears on the scene. It then guides Belicia out of the wilderness and takes her to safety. The mongoose interferes with Oscar’s impending misfortune as well. For example when Oscar jumps off the bridge, his mind cursorily thinks of the Golden Mongoose. This fact would ensure that he incurred no bodily harm. In this vein, we see how the Golden Mongoose is a metaphor for the numerous instances of zafa that the characters are fortunate to enjoy.