Participate in the Pulitzer Dialogues

Read 5 Pulitzer Titles in 5 Months!

To commemorate the centennial of the Pulitzer Prizes, six libraries from across New Mexico are partnering with the New Mexico Humanities C...

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Gallup Discussion: Golden Mongooses

This week we discussion The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao at Octavia Fellin Library in Gallup, New Mexico.  And before our discussion began there were some important things to clarify about the setting of the story and some of its symbolism.

Unlike other stories we discussed, some of our readers didn't immediately know the background of the Dominican Republic or the characters in the story.  Just reading the story, you learn a lot of more recent Dominican history, but not everyone remembers off the top of their head where the Dominican Republic is or the significance of its location.

The DR is on the island of Hispaniola.  People who know "a little" history might recall that Columbus discovered America in 1492.  The first place he "discovered" was Hispaniola, an island, and on the modern DR side of that island was where the first permanent Spanish settlement in the Americas was built, also making it the location of the first European colony in the Americas.


Notice how I said, "the modern DR side" above.  That's because, unlike most Caribbean nations, the DR has a border with another country.  Reading the story, you might not some passing references to Haitian genocide, derogatory references to Haitians, maybe a mention of looking like "you speak a little French" as a coded insult.  That's right!  The DR borders Haiti, and they have not had a healthy past. 

The DR was a Spanish colony and while they shipped a lot of slaves to the region, it wasn't half as many as were sent to Haiti for French plantations.  Skin color is a big deal in the story, and there's a lot of coded (and not so coded) language related to it.  Dark skin is usually seen as a terrible thing, handsome means white, as noted with Beli's first paramour, Jack Pujols, and when someone suggests you might speak a little French, it suggests you have darker skin, or in other words, you look Haitian.

The Sauron of our story is Rafael Trujillo or El Hefe, and he is portrayed as a pretty terrifying, incredibly evil guy.  I think the book actually gives you plenty to go off of, but I wanted to show a picture of him, because he doesn't look the super villain, child rapist, mass murdering monster that he definitely was... or at least, he doesn't look like I quite expect him to...

he looks...gassier...
Finally, let's talk about the Golden Mongoose in the story.  This is not really based on any bit of history or folklore.  So if your book club is sitting around scratching their heads and saying "What does the mongoose mean?" in deep, philosophical tones, here it is in the words of Junot Diaz, himself:
“My mother got lost when she was young in a coffee plantation (my father used to grow coffee) and she was lost for like three days and everyone thought she died and by the third day they just went and bought fucking—I mean, it shows you the difference, if a child were lost for three days today, we would still have hope, we would still be looking, but in the DR they were like ‘Three days? ’That kid’s fucking dead man’—they went out and bought funeral clothes, they were going to bury this little outfit and then my mother shows up. And my mother tells this story and she was like I had gotten lost and was just desperate and this mongoose came up and was like ‘you lost?’ ‘Well, I’m tired right now but I’ll come back tomorrow and lead you out.’ So he did and my mother arrived home the next day.” - Junot Diaz 
These are just a few things to keep in mind if you ever have a discussion or book club on this fantastic work.  A little background can help a lot when discussing a book, especially one as closely tied to a time and place as this one.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao discussion photos- South Broadway Library

Group Photo
Great discussion

More great discussion
Never a dull moment
Here are some photos from the South Broadway discussion of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao on September 17, 2016. 

Discussion Wrap-Up - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - South Broadway Library



The discussion group met on September 17, 2016, to discuss The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.  The language, specifically the Spanglish, found throughout the book was a hot topic.  Most members believed that it added authenticity to the story and that it was Diaz’s way of portraying the Dominican Republic’s culture in an honest and forthright way. Some members felt that the sheer volume of foreign words and phrases was a little overwhelming and slowed down the reading pace.  One person remarked that they needed a glossary to get through the book.  Another major facet of the book was the idea of fuku, the curse mentioned early in the book.  There were several ideas about what the fuku was and whether or not Oscar’s family would get through it.  The level of suffering and tragedy that the family endures is legion. Each generation had its own trials and each one was literally a matter of life and death.  Each generation loses family members and it seems the next generation is achieved only because one family member survives through harrowing circumstances to procreate.  The group also discussed the way the book handled masculinity in the Dominican culture and Oscar’s struggles to live up to the expectations.  Ultimately, the big question in the book is whether or not Oscar dies a virgin or not.  While the book tells us that he does not, the evidence is self-reported by Oscar and thus, leaves room open for doubt.  The group was split on this issue. Our next book is The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever and we will meet October 22nd at 2:00 pm at the Public Library Albuquerque and Bernalillo County | South Broadway branch.

Monday, September 19, 2016

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz - Final Book Discussion at Branigan Library

Our final book discussion was on August 18.  So sorry to see it come to an end!

The theme of this book is a hopeful quest, sad love story, a nerd hoping to have a sexual relationship, moving toward his doom - love, masculinity and the ways in which people deal with cruelty and tragedy. The language used in the book is somewhat different - possibly the language that the author grew up with and language of the culture.  A person may not know the exact meaning of some of the words or phrases used in the book, but gets the jest of what is being said/written.  Junot Diaz puts an insight into the novel.  He delves into the politics of their country/culture and ours.  These things need to be known.  Imperialistic attitudes need to be known.

Several participants in the book discussion commented on how they thought the footnotes were very helpful in understanding certain phrases, sections of the book and the history relating to the culture. 

The novel begins with the narrator's description of the curse, called fake americanus—a curse which was brought over to the islands of Antilles when the Europeans came. Oscar seemed to be the person that was the "victim" of his family's fukú.  Oscar is very polished, speaks in elvish - literary compliment.  He is both heroic and foolish.  He felt that this is what he had to do - his mission.

Oscar struggled with the family dynamics – the personalities of each family member, cultural background, values, and personal or family experiences.
 From the start we know that Oscar is going to die - an interesting/clever way to start the book.  What is it that make his life "wondrous"?  The author is in complete control.  Once it is out there - the reader controls.  Dictator and author are creative - control and influence people in different ways to reshape reality.  The reader gets a view of a different culture, views, traditions and being street smart.
 

Questions for Donnelly Library's Discussion of Plague of Doves

Donnelly Library’s Pulitzer Prize Challenge reading group has its second meeting on Thursday, September 22. Below are a few questions to think about for the upcoming discussion.

Take a look at the questions and please post your own questions or discussion points for this novel in the comments below.

Questions
  1. Although there is no ghost in Erdrich’s novel as there is in Morrison’s Beloved, the past haunts the communities of this novel. What events haunt the characters of Plague of Doves?
  2. Erdrich uses multiple narrators in this novel. Why do you think she chooses to use changing perspectives? What do the different narrators reveal about the history of the communities in this novel?
  3. How does religion and spirituality effect the different characters’ lives?  
  4. What is the role of the murder plot in this novel? Can this novel be called a murder mystery? How would you describe this novel?


Friday, September 16, 2016

About the Author: Louise Erdrich

"Louise Erdrich is the author of fifteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, children’s books, short stories, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel The Round House won the National Book Award for Fiction. The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and her debut novel, Love Medicine, was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Erdrich has received the Library of Congress Prize in American Fiction, the prestigious PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. She lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore." From Harper Collins.

Albuquerque Dialogues Picking up Steam

Check out this video of the very first discussion at the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Public Library's South Broadway library, on Louise Erdrich's Plague of Doves.