Saturday, July 23, 2011

CBRIII #11: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

I often think to myself how exceptionally lucky I am to be who I am. I mostly credit my mother, my good fortune at being born an American and my multicultured upbringing (which I guess can also be attributed to my mother.) Yet reading about Junot Diaz's hero, Oscar, really made me think about this definition of luck, and how when turned on its head, it can also be seen as fate, or better yet, as destiny.

A lot has been written on Pajiba about Junot Diaz's book and I'm pretty sure I've seen it on two Pajiba's Best-Of's list, so there's not much I can say about the plot that you haven't already heard. The Brief Wondrous Life os Oscar Wao follows two generations of a Dominican family, one of them being of Oscar and his sister, Lola, which is pretty much present-time in New Jersey, and the other of their mother, Beli, who lived in the Dominican Republic under the tyrannical rule of D.R.'s dictator, Rafael Trujillo. From the beginning, the narrator has said that Oscar's family was cursed—though he also says that every Dominican family believes themselves cursed in some way. As each family member throws themselves headfirst into disastrous situations without thinking, I started to wondering about this "curse." Is it a curse if they are doing what they want, what they feel they need or have to do? Does making it a curse make it less of a personal choice, and more of a question of them fulfilling their destiny? I just couldn't shake the feeling that when put under the blanket guise of a Dominican curse, their actions seem to take on greater weight, when really, the heady consequences should have been enough to make it a conscious stupid choice made by conscious stupid humans.

If it sounds like I'm insulting the characters, I really don't mean to. After all, human beings do stupid shit that is unfathomable even to themselves, especially when it comes to love, which is where this entire family seem to to excel in fucking up.

Our hero, Oscar, is an overweight nerd who is the antithesis of a playboy Dominican, struggling between trying to claim his Dominican identity and being stuck in his painfully geeky ways. He can't navigate the world of women and is a virgin that wants so badly to have someone fall in love with him. The title of the book pretty much gives away his ending, yet I couldn't help but root for him and hope that everything will be ok for him in the end.

Meanwhile, his sister, who fights violently with his mother, can't seem to stay away from Yunior, also the narrator of this book, who cheats on her constantly. As for their volatile mother, Beli grew up in the DR and had to leave eventually because she kept falling in love with the wrong man.

Reading back on what I wrote, I know I'm not really doing the plot any justice, but I think the best part about this book is Junot's use of language, and how he has infused the DR history with a lyrical, hip-hop beat, while also making it so completely engrossing to read. After I was done with this, I did a quick Google read on Rafael Trujillo, and you know what? Not as interesting. That might have been my favorite part of the book, just learning about the history of a country while also getting a sense of the culture and myths that can't be necessarily articulated in a history book. There is a sense of magical realism throughout, which adds to this notion of a family curse—as I said, take away the curse, and you just have human actions. Likewise, Junot's writing elevates the plot from just a romance novel to a literary masterpiece.


Anonymous said...

Sigh. Yet another book I must now own.

Anonymous said...

I know! Very, very terrible to feel compelled to buy a book!


Anonymous said...

My bookshelves are packed, though! For every book I read, I buy 3 more, it's terrible. And if I manage to be good, and not actually buy a book, it still goes on The List, which at this point, is about 7 pages long. Hopefully we'll last until such time as science figures out how to let us live for 1000 years. MAYBE then I'll manage to make a dent...