Title: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Author: Junot Diaz
Genre: Adult Literature
Synopsis: 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 epic journey from Santo Domingo to Washington Heights to New Jersey’s Bergenline and back again.
For starters, I will say what probably a lot of reviewers have pointed out. That is that the truth of the matter is that you will not enjoy this book to its full potential unless you speak Spanish. Not just any Spanish either, the colloquial Caribbean Spanish that only islanders can truly understand. So, seeing as I am Puerto Rican and I grew up around Dominicanos y Boricuas, this book was written for me.
What is book about? Is it about Oscar Wao? No, it is not. This book is a story of an island (Santo Domingo), it is a historic tale of a dictator, it is the story of a family and finally it is a story about being true to yourself. This story is not told in linear fashion and it has various POVs but what it interesting is that Junot decided to have the narrator be a character that we find little about. The narrator, Oscar’s best friend and Oscar’s sister’s boyfriend, looks in from the outside into this epic story.
If we were to condense the story to a linear narrative, we have first the grandfather; a rich white doctor who lives during the beginning of the Trujillato (the Trujillato is the reign of Rafael Trujillo aka. El Jefe, aka. The Goat, aka. a terrible dictator who ran Santo Domingo for 31 years). He is a weak studious man who tries to save his daughters from Trujillos’ lustful eyes from there we follow his youngest daughter, Hypatia Belicia “Beli”. Born very dark skinned with Indian hair, she is raised by her aunt La Inca and becomes a legendary beauty, from there we follow her children, Lola and Oscar Wao. So we get to know the entire family and Junot crafts their characters with aplomb.
Despite the great family dynamic, my very favorite part of this book was the historical anecdotes, anecdotes are used in this story without apologies and to some people they might be distracting but they were actually fantastic to me. They taught me pieces of history that I had no idea of and made me thirst for more books set in the Trujillato (Feast of the Goat here I come!). I am so incredible glad I read this, this was just what I needed and I ended up enjoying this to eternity and beyond. This is such a fantastic mix of a touch of magical realism, mythology, history, nerdiness and all the manifestations of love.
Do I recommend it? Yes, even more if you understand Spanish and can ‘get’ the jokes, it will make you laugh and up your enjoyment.