Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

written for HACC's newspaper The Fourth Estate

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As a first-generation Mexican-American, I was thrilled to pick up a book that contained the language I speak: Spanglish. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a colorfully-worded novel that follows the life of the de León family, from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey, concentrating on the not-so-typical life of teenage Oscar.

The story of our Dominican Oscar Wilde (Oscar Wao, get it?) is told in parts by his sister, Lola, and his best friend, Yunior.  While the novel has been labeled by some as misogynistic, it follows with the way Rafael Trujillo led the Dominican Republic during his reign.  Each page is peppered with Trujillo political references, Spanish words, footnotes, and sci-fi references.  And, of course, Oscar.

 Everyone can attest to trying to live up to our parents’ expectations, and Oscar’s pitiful attempts to be something he is not touches the heart.  He spends much of his time reading sci-fi and fantasy books, and is not lucky with the ladies.  Being overweight does not help his cause and he is mercilessly teased by his own people.  Even his own two best friends go out and get girlfriends without him!

 It seems that Oscar’s ancestors have been cursed with the fukú, the unmentionable curse that has followed the family through generations.  We hear of the story of Oscar’s grandfather, Abelard, and his troubles with the dictator of the time, Trujillo.  We also learn about Abelard’s daughter, Beli (Oscars’ mother), and her past interactions of prejudice due to her dark skin.  While a cousin did taker her in, was that enough to heal her?  Perhaps all the brutality she endured is the reason that she is so tough on her own children.  We see how Lola’s adolescence is affected by her mother’s dominance, and it’s not pretty.

 Could it be that all of Oscar’s bad luck can be explained by this fukú?  Perhaps.  The whole book is full of examples of life’s unfairness that come down to perception: a beating could be seen as a curse or the survival of said beating as a blessing.  It seems to me that all the family’s trouble come from the love department, where they really do seem cursed!
Junot Diaz
Díaz does a wonderful job in bringing the immigrant life to the forefront.  This is not just a story about Oscar.  No, it is the story of a family and the history of that time.  Díaz does not hide behind the pretty, but shows all the nastiness and ugliness out there.  Amidst all that, there is hope.  After all, who has more hope than a 19-year-old male virgin waiting to get laid?