I'm reading Junot Díaz's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, about a New Jersey supernerd from the Dominican Republic, his family and the Fukú Americanus ("the Curse and the Doom of the New World") that plagues them. Díaz's prose is like machine-gun fire-- quick and lethal-- and his narrative switches back and forth between fiction and history, English and Spanish, first-person and third-person, with stunning agility. At times, it's laugh-out-loud funny, something I've been missing since I read Russo's Straight Man or Roth's Portnoy's Complaint. The novel is also full of David-Foster-Wallace-esque footnotes, provided for those of us readers unfamiliar with the details of DR history or the nuances of Spanish slang. And it's one of those footnotes (on page 97, for those of you following at home) that caught my attention...
Díaz's narrator, Yunior, is reflecting on what he calls the "natural antagonism" between writers and dictators in the context of recounting the story of Jesús de Galíndez. Galíndez was a Dominican exile and a graduate student at Columbia University, who had decided to write his dissertation on the Dominican Republic's most infamous and bloodiest dictator, Rafael Trujillo (aka, El Jefe or "The Chief"). Yunior writes:
Long story short: upon hearing of the dissertation, El Jefe first tried to buy the thing and when that failed he dispatched his chief Nazgul (the sepulchral Felix Bernardino) to NYC and within days Galíndez got gagged, bagged and dragged to La Capital, and legend has it when he came out of his chloroform nap he found himself naked, dangling from his feet over a cauldron of boiling oil, El Jefe standing nearby with a copy of the offending dissertation in hand. (And you thought your committee was rough?)
So, for all of my friends/readers still laboring under those horrible scarlet letters "ABD": take heart. It could be much, much worse.