Thursday, August 23, 2012
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
This story of a family curse and the Dominican Republic is told by several narrators (in some cases it's hard to determine from whose perspective the story goes), and the time and place vary from chapter to chapter. The book begins as the narrator explains that all subsequent events can be attributed to a curse - fuku, which was brought by Europeans to the Americas. Modern Dominicans do not believe in the curse, but the current generation of parents believes that it’s real.
Oscar, the protagonist of the novel, from the age of seven had a weakness for girls, and also was the main geek of the Dominican ghetto. After an early incident when he first broke up with a girlfriend, and then another girlfriend dumped him, Oscar is rapidly gaining weight, becoming the thickest on the block. Oscar become SF&F fan, he reads fantasy and science fiction all day, play role-playing board games, watches anime and B-movies, in general. In school, he learns so-so, not interested in sports, does not participate in extracurricular activities. Girls shy away from him, and the friends soon start to laugh at him. Despite all the loving Oscar by high school years is suffering from a lack of steady girlfriend. Moreover, his geek-friends miraculously lost their virginity, and Oscar hasn’t yet.
In Junot Diaz’s style lay the main strength and weakness of this memorable novel. To show the actual integration of the two cultures, the Dominican and American (Oscar is American in the first generation), Diaz throws in the boiling cauldron of his prose pinch of Spanish in the bulk of English. English clearly dominates, but this mix does not confuse and not deterred. Diaz uses single words and whole sentences in Spanish in the text without selecting them either italics or bold, not giving footnotes and translation. Not knowing Spanish, you can still understand 80 percent of the writing, and the remaining 20 to guess the meaning. And the mix of languages is not the only thing that the writer mixed in his book. In the novel, for example, swearing in Spanish and baroque prose in perfect English are mixed, too. Of similes and metaphors, there are those that have a geek origin (reference to Marvel comics, jokes from the B-movies or quotes in Elvish from "The Lord of the Rings"), and there are those that mention Dickens. In narrators’s language Dominican sayings, world like Negro, passages, worthy of the best family sagas are perfectly combined. Since the main characters in the book teenagers and young adults, the tone of the narrative is quite cheerfully and youth, with youth slang, especially in Spanish. But in such a vigorous mix of everything you can find a few flaws. First, the story is told by several narrators, but the style of the book in all chapters is more or less similar, so the difference between the narrators is not very visible. Second, even when the author describes the history of the Cabral family, or something else non-youth, he still continues to use the vocabulary of a 15-year-olds from the Dominican ghetto.
By introducing fantastic element (although this element is rather vague, it was a curse or not, everyone decides for himself) in the novel, Diaz opened his novel to a large audience of fans. Family saga, coming-of-age story are what a "serious public" can find here, but the geek references, curses, and the main character, writing a fantasy - it's all for science fiction fans.
This is a book for everyone, and Diaz knows it. What's it about? About the relationship between generations, fate, the inner strength, will say someone. And they would be right. About that fat people remain virgins, will answer somebody else. And this is also true. He offers a lot of youth slang, which may make you think about the frivolousness of the novel. But then Diaz has a complex structure of the novel, which can not be called frivolous.
The title of the novel includes the name of Oscar, but the book is not only about him, but about his family. Oscar's sister all the time is somewhere on the sidelines, but Oscar's mother is already too voluminous character.
The book contains a number of references, written in small print, on the history of the Dominican Republic, but they are annoying and at times there seem superfluous.
Oscar had quite busy life, and the book was very enjoyable too. This is the book, which, I think, will long be remembered.