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
For More on The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao :
Esquivel, L. (1992). Like water for chocolate: a novel in monthly installments, with recipes, romances, and home remedies. New York: Doubleday. 9780385420167
When I began my ill-fated study of Spanish in high school, my awesome Spanish teacher suggested we watch movies or TV shows in Spanish. Soon after, I stumbled upon the movie version of Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. For the prudish sophomore I was, this was both eye opening and jaw dropping.
A couple of years later, some of my college friends raved about the book. The numerous recommendations and the accolade of being a 1001 Books book reinitiated my interest in reading Like Water for Chocolate.
A grandniece tells us the story of the protagonist – Tita de la Garza. Tita is the youngest of three daughters who live in early twentieth century Mexico, close to Texas. Mama Elena de la Garza has a ranch and rests easy in the knowledge that her spirited youngest daughter, Tita, will take care of her. This is tradition – the youngest daughter cares for her mother until death.
When Tita and a young man named Pedro fall in love, Mama Elena bars it and foists her second eldest daughter, Rosaura, on Pedro. In a world of pain, Tita’s only release is cooking. Tita cooks with all of her heart and this can be experienced by the consumers of the food. Similar to the saying, “If Mama ain’t happy. . .” Tita’s emotions become the eater of Tita’s food.
Perhaps it’s the magical realism but I sensed this to be a fairy tale. I liked Tita’s expression and use of the little control she has in her life. She’s no slouch.
Also, I liked that the book offered recipes – sort of going along with something Francis Ford Coppola said about making the first Godfather movie. Originally, the book was published in a magazine over a twelve month period. I considered myself fortunate to have all the stories and recipes condensed to one book.
Still, I did feel some sympathy for Rosaura; I don’t know if Esquivel had that in mind. She seemed to be in the way of everyone and used as a weapon against Tita and Pedro.
Three Out of Five Pearls
Places: Mexico, Texas