Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

Oscar Wao is not your average Dominican kid. First of all he's fat. He can't get a girl no matter how hard he tries. He reads a lot, especially fantasy, sci-fi and comics. He uses erudite words when he speaks, such as I'm embarking on a new cycle of my life. We writes. He plays at dungeon and dragons. There's only one word for him. Nerd.
The book, though, it's not just about his life. It's about his parents and grandparents, who lived their lives in a country ruled by the super dictator Trujillo, and who suffered what some people call fukù, a curse. Once you get the fukù, there's no coming back, your life is doomed. So you pretty much know from the start that this is not going to be a happy story.

What I didn't know is that there was so little about Oscar. Or at least not enough. I enjoyed the harsh, colloquial style, I didn't mind the footnotes, because being footnotes they can be ignored when necessary, the Spanish wasn't too hard to guess and for the rest there's the internet, and the fantasy/sci-fi references were ice-cream for the eyes. I flew through the first part thinking this was the best book ever. THEN, it skipped few years and went to talk about his mother, and then his grand-parents, and then his aunt. Only then it goes back to talk about Oscar. There's also a brief chapter told through Oscar's big sister Lola, which I also enjoyed. But I was eager to get to know Oscar more, to be with him a bit more, and there wasn't much time. You know, his life is brief.
So, this is not to say I was bored reading about his family. I 'd actually love to re-read it knowing that the story is a much broader one, but on the first round I was too impatient to get back to the Oscar bits to fully enjoy the rest of the characters stories.

Now, having said that...I was happy to learn more about the Dominican history. I'm one of those who never even heard of Trujillo, nor of the Haitians persecutions. It wasn't easy to read about all the violence, but at least it was realistic and informative.
What I was more uncomfortable with was the role of women in the stories. Not the violence against them, but the way they reacted to it. I get it that that's the way it was back then, and it is still, in some ways. But I would have wished that, at least, some of them would react against it.
Lola's character is a good one, strong-minded and ass-kicking. But she also is guilty of some acts I couldn't defend. So there was definitely a lack of really good female characters.
Still, I finished the book thinking it was awesome, despite of its flaws.
Oscar is the ultimate anti-hero, and is utterly charming. I loved the way he talked, how he put all his energies and passion in everything he did. I wish I could read his books. I can't believe none of the women that crossed his roads managed to see that. Well, except one, maybe.

I could have read about him for ever. . I'm sure we would have been friends:)

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Debi said...

This is one of those books that has me thoroughly intimidated. Every time I read a review, I think, "Okay, time to go pull it off the shelf and give it a try." Care to guess what I'm thinking right now? Yep. Your review is perfectly wonderful, Valentina, and you're tempting me yet again to ignore my doubts and just give this a go...

raych said...

I loved this book so hard,and when it ended I felt so tragically hopeful and like I'd been a part of something enormous and beautiful and THAT IS WHY I READ BOOKS!!!

Amanda said...

I'm looking forward to this one.

ANovelMenagerie said...

Raych is so super intelligent and just really gets books. This book was a bit tough for me. I'm glad I read it, but it was a bit of a labor of love for me.

Thanks for the link!

A Novel Menagerie

Stephanie said...

This is the first time I've seen this version of the book cover - is it being made into a movie or something?

Vasilly said...

You wrote such a great review. I cannot wait to read this one.

Ana S. said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it so much. I had no idea about what had happened in the Dominican Republic either, and I was shocked. I see what you mean about the female characters, but I wonder if there might be a cultural element to it. For a look at some of the same historical events through a female perspective, I really recommend How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

I love how everyone gets a little something different out of this book. We read it for our book club and everyone had a different take. I loved the parts about the DR and didn't really miss not knowing Oscar as much. In a way, Junior dominated Oscar's story anyway (the only part I didn't like about the book was when Junior and Oscar were living together).

But I agree that Oscar is a great character--charming and tragic al at the same time.

valentina said...

Debi, don't be intimidated! It's not like that at all! it was a great read, really.don't miss it!! that's why I read books too!!

Amanda, I wonder what you'll think. Hope you enjoy it.

sheri, I don't know, I didn't get everything but I still enjoyed it, there was so much to take from it. But I can see why it's not for everybody.

stephanie, I don't think so. It's just the UK version. It's strange but I love it, so geeky. It'd be interesting though to see it made into a movie.

Thank you Vasilly, hope you enjoy it!

Nymeth, probably there was yes, but I can't help from thinking they should rebel more.
Thanks for the rec, I'll look it up!

Trish, yes it's so rich and layered, anybody can get something out of it. Although I assume if you're hurt by strong language and f words, you should keep out!lol