[Review] The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

Title of Book: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Author: Junot Diaz
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Year: 2007
Language: English
Format: Hardback
Pages: 335

Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the fukú–the ancient curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still dreaming of his first kiss, is only its most recent victim–until the fateful summer that he decides to be its last.
With dazzling energy and insight, Junot Díaz immerses us in the uproarious lives of our hero Oscar, his runaway sister Lola, and their ferocious beauty-queen mother Belicia, and in the family's epic journey from Santo Domingo to Washington Heights to New Jersey's Bergenline and back again. Rendered with uncommon warmth and humor, THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO presents an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and the endless human capacity to persevere–and to risk it all–in the name of love. A true literary triumph, this novel confirms Junot Díaz as one of the best and most exciting writers of our time.


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao follows the life of Oscar De Leon. A Dominican kid who is a fantasy and science fiction lover and always in constant search of love. His search for love proves to be a difficult task for him as he tends to be obsessive and scares whoever he's trying to pursue. His appearance doesn't help either since he's overweight. He also has a complicated relationship with his mother and his sister. This book chronicles his life and his Dominican family living in America.

Although the title only mentions Oscar, I'd say this book is actually a multi-generational story. It does not only involve Oscar but also his families and his roommate. That would be because they are the ones who shape Oscar's life and again back to the title, this book is about the life of Oscar. Oscar de Leon is a socially awkward person. Since he was young he's been obsessed with science fiction and fantasy. He often uses it to try making connection with other people. Unfortunately, for a person who's already labeled as an 'outsider' (a child of an immigrant), it doesn't help him. All his life he's always in search of love which drove him to do things that would put him in danger. Interesting enough, this trait (if we could call it that) runs in his family. As we discover in the book through his mother's, Beli, past.

A 'character' that's heavily involved in Oscar's life but only appear briefly in the book is Trujillo, former president of Dominican Republic. He's a dictator who ruled the country from 1930 to 1961. In the beginning of the book, it is explained that he had Fuku which means a curse. People who have contact with him in any way would get this curse following their life. This Fuku is the central theme in this book. It is believed that all the misfortune happening in the de Leon family is because of the Fuku. It's like Trujillo has become a shadow that haunted the de Leon family. Actually this belief of a supernatural power being responsible of a family's life would put this book in the magical realism area. However, when I read it I'd like to think this Fuku as something that people believe when they couldn't explain why anything happened. Reading the narrator's explanation on how horrifying the country was when Trujillo ruled, I assume that Trujillo's ruthlessness is what cause the misfortune; It's so bad that the effect last through generations.

Reading this book gives me an interest to read more about Trujillo. I already know that he's a dictator but I didn't know how cruel he was. True, the Trujillo described in this book might not be true to life or an exaggerated version but it intrigues me to learn more about the Dominican Republic's history.

One point that I like in this book is the symbolism. Often times when I was reading a book I would recognize some symbolism in the book but never really get the purpose or how it connects with the story. It would take me some time to think it over after finishing the book. With this book, I experienced that Aha! Moment while I was reading. I understand the symbolism and I'd say it enhanced my reading experience. For example, the sugarcane field. It's the place where bad things happen. When the characters brought there, you know that something bad will happen; which I think is ironic because sugarcane is one of the most important agriculture products from the Dominican Republic. For something that supposedly brings prosperity, there's such a bloody history behind it. It is even rumored that Trujillo would torture or get rid of his enemies in the sugarcane field. I don't want to spoil things but there's a scene in the sugarcane field which made me realized that in the end it all comes full circle.

A downside that I found in this book is it uses many Spanish words and there're no notes or translations provided. Sometimes there's even a full sentence in Spanish with no translation. I don't speak Spanish so I always feel like I'm missing out on something. At first, I was annoyed by it and I'd look up the words in English to understand what they mean. Except that there's a lot of it! Several pages later I got tired and just skip the Spanish words/ sentences. I mean, it's okay to incorporate another language in the narration, at least give translation notes as to what it means.

This book does have footnotes in it. I thought the footnotes would help me understand the language and the references. As I read through the book, I realized that the footnotes have a mind of its own. The footnotes act as a commentary from the writer who actually observed what's happening in the book. I thought they're comments from Diaz. I'm not sure if it will spoil the book but I'll let you figure out by yourself whose comments they were when you read the book.

Honestly, I don’t think that my summary of this book or my observation able to capture perfectly what this book really is about. This book caught me off guard. I went in expecting one thing and ended up getting another, and a lot more. Initially, I wasn't that interested in this book. Diaz's other book, This is How You Lose Her is what put Diaz on my radar. Even so, this book is the one that I could obtain first. I'm glad I read it though. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is such a complex and intense book. Sure, there are what I considered as flaws, such as the excessive unexplained Spanish, the vulgarity and the explicit brutality could make some people feel uncomfortable. Other than that, I was left in awe after finishing this book. In conclusion, I highly recommend this book.

No comments :

Post a Comment