Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
 by Junot Díaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao explores one Dominican family's history as narrated by a "friend" of the family, Yuni.

Oscar Wao's life as a Dominican male started off on the right track.  He was a pre-school Cassanova, who was "always trying to kiss the girls, coming up behind them during a merengue and giving them the pelvic pump, the first nigger to learn the perrito and the one who danced it any chance he got."

Unfortunately, for overweight, "GhettoNerd" Oscar, his boyhood luck with girls was as brief as it was wonderful.  Enter his fascination with all things sci-fi and all things physically and sexually so "unDominican" ultimately landing him as the "neighborhood parigüayo".

Although Oscar's life tragedy of social exhile and non-existing romance is at the core of the novel, the stories of his punk, rebelde sister Lola and his achingly beautiful, wild orphan mother Beli, are even more captivating.

This novel presents a cycle of love and violence that orbit around a family.  In many ways, when combined into a whole, the individual life-stories within this one family parallel the experiences of many Dominicans during the thirty years of the Trujillo dictatorship: Ideology, complacency, betrayal, revolt, all are constant themes revolving around another sub-theme: That of fukú and zafa; curse and counterspell.

Yuni's slang and cuss-infested speech, which permeates the wildly informative and entertaining footnotes, adds a sense of now, of realness, of relevance to the text.

Here's an example of these awesome footnotes:

For those of you who missed your mandatory two seconds of Dominican history: Trujillo, one of the twentieth century's most infamous dictators, ruled the Dominican Republic between 1930 and 1961 with an implacable ruthless brutality.  A portly, sadistic, pig-eyed mulato who bleached his skin, wore platform shoes, and had a fondness for Napoleon-era haberdashery, Trujillo (also known as El Jefe, the Failed Cattle Thief, and Fuckface) came to control nearly every aspect of the DR's political, cultural, social and economic life through a potent (and familiar) mixture of violence, intimidation, massacre, rape, co-option, and terror; treated the country like it was a plantation and he was the master.

Rating: Buy this book-Today! Read it and then give it to your young adults to read.  They'll learn an amazing amount from an author who speaks in a raw, honest language they will "get".

Junot Díaz is the author of the short story collection Drown, and his fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and The Best American Short Stories.  Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and raised in New Jersey, he now lives in New York City and is a professor at MIT.

Visit his website

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Waking Up in the Land of Glitter: A review

Waking Up in the Land of Glitter                                        
By Kathy Cano-Murillo                                             
Grand Central Publishing                                           
ISBN 978-0-446-50924-4

Waking Up in the Land of Glitter follows the integration of three women's lives, all of which are in some way or another affected by crafts.

Star is the manager of her parents' restaurant and art gallery, La Pachanga Eatery and Art Space.  Although the family restaurant serves the best Mexican cuisine in the valley, and Star is second-generation Mexican-American, she refuses to eat the food, speak Spanish or have anything else to do with the Mexican-American culture, for fear of being "lumped into those stereotypes".  Unfortunately, those aren't the worst of her traits.  Star has had a steady relationship with Theo, a charming and talented artist with a sweet nature and  "intuitive viewpoints on world issues" for many years.  Although their friendship is soul-mate material, it has remained plutonic because of Star's fear of messing up a comfortable relationship.  

We are first introduced to a hung-over Star as she fields questions from Chloe Chavez, the "Beemer"-driving, Juicy Couture-wearing journalist from KPDM.  Chloe is famous around town as the mid-day Crafting segment host.  When they meet, it's instant animosity; what neither woman knows is that each of them hides a huge and potentially destructive secret.  

Trying to keep the peace between her best friend Star and her idol Chloe, is Ofelia.  A homely, sweet gal that is helplessly obsessed with crafts and to whom no craft is complete until it is heavily incrusted with glitter.
These three women are thrown into an awkward partnership when La Pachanga is hired to provide the centerpieces for the largest Craft Show of the year.  

Waking Up in the Land of Glitter is full of pop-culture details and tongue-in-cheek character depictions.  It's a story that's just as much about growing up and learning to love, as it is about not judging a book by it's cover, such as the case of dismissing crafts as real artwork, just because it's dipped in glitter.  Although you can say that Ofelia's biggest challenge is to realize that not everything that glitters is gold, the same can be said for Star and Chloe.

Waking Up in the Land of Glitter is a fun and light read.  Crafters and fans of Crafty Chica will not be disappointed!