"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao"


My initial review of this book (posted on goodreads) wasn’t very positive. Since then, though, if there were little half-stars to hand out on that site, I probably bump it up to 3 ½:

A fast, fun read. I dunno. I was expecting to like this book more than I did. I liked it, but I didn’t *love* it. I liked the narrator’s style, like how he addressed the reader as “Negro, please.” The sprinkling of Spanish slang and words everywhere was fun too, though it definitely made me wonder what people who didn’t speak a word of Spanish would think. When I read books with French phrases thrown around like it’s nothing at all, I always feel sad and bummed, like “man I really want to know what kind of incredibly funny pun or comment you’re making… mais je ne parle pas francais!” Oh, well.

My favorite part of this book was when Oscar goes back to the Dominican Republic to visit his family–the two-page run-on setence describing his experiences is my favorite in the whole book. Diaz definitely captures the whole going-back-to-a-place-you-were-once-a-part-of-but-now-really-aren’t feeling very well.

My favorite chapters were the ones narrated by Oscar’s sister and her boyfriend. The ones about DR history, concerning Oscar’s ancestors and family, were a bit more of a slog for me to get through. I dunno, I just feel like that whole family-history, magical realism thing has been done to death. Every time that stupid magical mongoose showed up, or the characters dreamed about the faceless man, I wanted to throw the book across the room and pick up “The Savage Detectives” instead. PLEASE, NO MORE MAGIC IN LATINO LITERATURE. I guess Diaz was trying to frame Oscar’s story in this epic Dominican Republic history, a la LOTR… my problem was that I liked the modern, young characters’ voices and stories so much, I wanted more from them!!! Not another rehash of the Latin American extended family history novel. It’s not exactly fair to call this book a “rehash” though, since it’s narrated in such a unique, fun voice.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is the kind of book which I’ll either feel differently about once some time passes (i.e. I’ll read it again and completely love it), or I’ll have forgotten about it completely, and can only offer up a blank face and a neutral “erm, it was a good read” when asked what I thought about it.

Well, since writing that I read the little wikipedia article about the novel and the author, and even though this feels like a huge cop-out to me, I have to admit that it brought some things up that I didn’t really think about (but which in hindsight should have seemed perfectly obvious to me, and hence make me feel like a dunce). First of all, I had no idea that the narrator’s name was Yunior de las Casas, immediately reminiscent of Bartolome. Thinking of Oscar’s story as one in the tradition of the immigration saga makes a lot of sense. The connection between the novel and Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” also opens up a lot of doors in my brain. That deliberate nod to Hemingway makes me wonder if masculinity is a bigger theme in this novel than I’d realized—I me, the basic narrative arch of the story boils down to Oscar trying to get laid. So yeah, it’s interesting to see how now that a little time has passed, I’m still thinking about this book and lots of interesting themes and ideas are coming to light

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