Díaz, J. (2007). The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao. New York: Riverhead Books.
All the Pulitzer buzz proved irresistible. Then, I saw Díaz on CBS Sunday Morning and in Criticás. Initially, I liked hearing and reading that there was another writer out there grateful to libraries and librarians. Learning that Oscar Wao was actually a mispronunciation of Oscar Wilde and that the characters were from part of the Dominican diaspora increased my interest.
My fascination with the D. R., a place narrator/watcher Yunior “Yuni” de las Casas describes as being very “sci-fi,” stems from Dominican American writer Julia Àlvarez. Àlvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies was even referenced in one of the many footnotes in this book. My mom requested the book and I read it in a week.
Oscar is a sad, obese New Jersey “ghetto nerd” (Díaz, Chapter One) of Dominican descent. He voraciously consumes all the Sci-Fi the Paterson, NJ libraries can offer; they and his sister Lola are the only ones who do not reject him. Instead of being in Middle Earth, he must do his best in the real world. However, he and his family seem doggedly ill-fated, being heavily pursued by an old Dominican curse of “fuku.” Fuku haunts Oscar’s family since his erudite grandfather said the wrong things about the D.R.’s former despot, Trujillo. Yet, the romantic temperament of Oscar does not keep him from avoiding the grips of “fuku.”
Immediately, I liked the authentic characters and the believable depictions as given mostly by our watcher, the womanizing Yuni. I also felt as though I experienced the true life of the first generation in the US through Oscar, Lola, and Yuni.
I had a love/hate relationship with the Spanglish of this novel. My limited understanding of Spanish drove me to my language dictionary often. Nevertheless, it made Yuni and the rest of the characters completely real. By the end of the book, I was convinced I could meet up with some of the characters. Another love/hate relationship derived from the multitude of footnotes. While I liked the context offered, it also distracted from the story.
The language definitely earns this novel an “R” rating. I was particularly troubled by the constant use of the “n word.” While I understand it’s both permissible and commonplace amongst these characters, I didn’t like it and I refuse to even type the word in my blog.
One of the most impressive feats Díaz manages is creating a Fantasy novel. In the strictest definition, the parallel universes of late Twentieth Century New Jersey and the Trujillo days of the Dominican Republic offer the reader a work of folklore-laden Fantasy and contemporary Historical Fiction.
All in all, I’m glad I read his book and I quickly requested Díaz’s collection of short stories Drown via ILL.
Four out of Five Pearls
Places: The Dominican Republic; Paterson, NJ; New York, NY, New Brunswick, NJ
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