Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, The
Written for Scribd:
It’s easy to see why my coworker recommended I read this back in the day, both on a personal and political and you know what, just about every level. It’s easy to see why this novel has gotten so much praise, even if it’s not always an easy novel to read. Just start it, and be entranced by the blending of fact and fiction and the beauty of Yunior’s Spanglish slang.
Why someone would recommend this to me, personally: It is widely known that I’m pretty into anime and manga (as evidenced by the fact that my Scribd teammates bought me Yu-Gi-Oh! cards for my birthday, and my two side podcasts). Oscar is also a nerd who’s pretty into anime (his favorite is Robotech/Macross, a franchise connected to my favorite anime, The Vision of Escaflowne, via producer Minoru Takanashi. See? Nerds). I grew up just north of Philadelphia and hung out with a lot of kids from New Jersey, while Oscar grew up in Paterson, New Jersey. There are few things more fun than anime and making fun of how crummy New Jersey is. (Except books, of course. Duh.)
Politically, let’s be real, how much do you know about the Dominican Republic? (I went there once, also in 2013, to enjoy the pretty beaches. I couldn’t tell you anything about the country’s history.) Yunior puts everybody in their place right off the bat, giving a little DR history lesson, acknowledging that you probably didn’t learn these things in school. In an interview with Slate, Díaz asserts, “You can't tell the history of the U.S. without the history of the Dominican Republic, and yet people do so all the time. Oscar, like Lola, like Yunior, is one of Trujillo’s children. His shadow, his legacy, is upon them all in ways that none of them understand. Trujillo is a local version of the legacy of the New World, which all of us who live in this hemisphere carry upon our heads. The novel’s question is: How do you deal with this legacy? Do you run from it? Do you ignore it, deploy existential denial? These are strategies that add to the legacy’s power, that guarantee its perpetuation.”
It’s a needed lesson full of strong-willed, tragic characters, victims and perpetrators of brutality. There are times where Yunior tries to spare the readers the worst of the violence by just describing the aftermath, the broken bones and broken spirits. But this a story about the atrocities and legacies of dictatorship, about sexuality and hypermasculinity, and so it can be particularly hard to read as a woman. And it can be hard to believe that much of this fictional tale is deeply steeped in historical reality.
Really, we’ve just scratched the surface of what The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is about here. Or how much it loves and makes language magical. Or how Junot Díaz is a genius, legitimately one of the greatest writers of a generation. This is just a little blog about a momentous book, an American classic. Oscar Wao is only about 11 hours long in audio format (this audiobook edition also includes Díaz’s collection of short stories, Drown), but it takes you through almost a century of history and delves into the lives of three generations more intimately than far longer books that actually focus on their titular character exclusively. So, go. And next time, when your friends and coworkers tell you to read something because it’s the biggest book of the decade, don’t wait several years to pick it up.
It's odd. I couldn't put it down. Then when it was finished, I had to say to myself, "That really wasn't worth the time."
It's lyrically told, and I enjoyed learning something of the history of the Dominican Republic, but I found the liberal use of the Spanish with no translation to be off-putting.
When I learned that he did this so as to give the reader a taste of the "Immigrant Experience" - well, this simply means that I now know that I don't want to read any of his other books. This seems overly manipulative. I read to be told a story, not to have an immigrant experience. To me, this comes off as way way way too speshul-snowflake precious. Spare me.
On the whole, it was fairly enjoyable, and I'm glad that I read it, but it's nothing to go out of your way for, imho.