11 July 2011

The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Brief Synopsis
This is the story of Oscar, an obese, lovesick, first generation American, whose mother had immigrated from the Dominican Republic. The book explores the idea that the family of Oscar had been jinxed. The story takes place in New Jersey, New York and in the Dominican in the time of Trujillo, Dominican’s infamous dictator.

Thoughts and Reflections
This book took some getting used to. I very much enjoyed the novel, but the language is quite abrasive and took some time to get used to. The book is narrated by a friend and classmate of the protagonists and former boyfriend of the protagonist’s sister. The narrator is also a Dominican and a player who lives in the New Jersey area.  He speaks with all the slang and swearing of this demographic in this region. I don’t doubt its authenticity, but it takes a bit of getting used to.

As for the structure of the novel, there are many footnotes, which help develop the reader’s understanding of the history and national identity of the Dominican. I found this an effective way of providing the necessary information without bombarding the reader with facts. The footnotes are also in the voice of the narrator, which is entertaining. The narrator provides the stories for Oscar, his mother, and his sister. All these stories further develop the reader’s understanding of Oscar and his particular situation. I found these entwining stories also an entertaining way to tell Oscar’s story without boring the reader.

The novel discusses the idea that this family has been cursed. Certain images were seen by multiple members of this family at various points of great trauma in their lives. These images could be deemed as the saviour from the trauma or the source of the trauma. I dug the ambiguity.

Oscar himself was both likeable and dislikeable. On the one hand, his endless self-pity was maddening. On the other hand, I felt bad for him. One thing though, this kid really stands up for what he believes in, which is admirable, no matter social status.

The characters, is my mind, are very well developed. Knowing nothing about the history of the Dominican, this book was a taste of something too. It discussed the national identity of the Dominican, as well as its diaspora community. I appreciated the discussion of how cultural history affects the generations.

Dominican men are shown as very passionate, charmers, and lovers. The book depicts Dominicans are very sexual people (save Oscar, our lovesick protagonist). These characteristics were explored during the novel, for their pros and cons and how they affect male-female relationships. Sadly, it seems that the need to be in a sexual relationship is far more important than avoiding situations of abuse. Women also seemed to endure being cheated on multiple times by their boyfriends. Should a breakup ensue, the boyfriend would pine the loss of a beautiful woman, but not change his ways. I would say these women dealt with more crap than they should have! All that to say, an ongoing topic of discussion in the book was male-female relationships, which was subtle, yet interesting.

I found the book thought provoking, frustrating, crude, ridiculous, and enjoyable. I liked this mix. I would say this book a taste of something different and not just because it discusses a culture that I am not overly familiar with. The format, the language, the themes were entirely unique in my opinion. In an ideal world, I would read it again and hopefully gain a deeper understanding of the themes and topics. It’s a loaded book, but not necessarily a heavy read. I would definitely give a warning about the language and sexual content. Though I found they contributed to the setting and character development, some may have a difficult time adapting to it.

About the Author
Junot Diaz was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in 1968, emigrating to New Jersey in 1974, where he reunited with his father who had been living and working. He attended Kean College in New Jersey before going on to Rutgers in 1992. He majored in English at Rutgers and worked at Rutgers University Press after graduating. He went on to Cornell University to earn a Master`s in Fine Arts in 1995. He was listed as one of the top 20 writers of the 21st century by the New Yorker and has received a number of other awards for his works. The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao was published in 2007 and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. He currently teaches creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 

Things I Loved About This Novel
1. The newness of it. It was refreshing, because I don’t believe I have ever read something similar.
2. I believe there is so much more to this book. I like the feeling that there is more to it than at first blink. 


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