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

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