The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao

What do you with your favorite books? And what are your absolute favorites?  Right now, off the top of my head, I can think of East of Eden, The Life of Pi, The Color Purple and now, Oscar Wao.  Do you have a little group of favorite books that go wherever you go?  To college, to camp, to an internship, to a new house, across the country or overseas.  Maybe you read your favorites more than once, like I do.  Maybe you’re like me, and you bookmark your favorite passages and quotes so you can go back and reread them when you’re feeling lonely or you can’t sleep at night.  Maybe you like to think the characters of these books exist in some alternate book-universe, because even though they are fictional characters they become so real when you read about them.  What makes these books so special, what makes them your favorite?  Is it the characters, the writing style, the use of language, the plot, or how everything comes together to form a beautiful story, a piece of art? 

Reading Oscar Wao is like listening to a storyteller weave a tale.  It is like you’re sitting with Yunior (the narrator) on the train, and you have a really long ride, so Yunior decides to tell you a story about his friend from Rutgers, a dorky kid named Oscar Wao who is the exact opposite of the Dominican/Latino male stereotype.  Oscar is overweight and he’s a complete sci-fi fantasy nerd.  Oscar is afraid he will be the only Dominican man in history to die a virgin.  And his family is cursed.  While Yunior is telling you Oscar’s story, he goes into tangents about the history of the Dominican Republic and he tells you terrifying unbelievable horrifiying stories about its former dictator Trujillo and Trujillo’s influence on Oscar’s family.  I randomly came across this review of Oscar Wao in a WordPress blog where the author perfectly describes the writing style that I will quote here instead of trying to write something of my own:

Perhaps this really is today’s new literature – one that is a mix of brands, words that bitch-slap you with their power, and sentences that challenge you with brazen cultural references (not caring if don’t share them).  Its rap brought into novel form – or maybe the other way around – but grounded in enough history and straight-up storytelling to mesmerize instead of confuse.

The first few pages the novel are about fuku, which is like the Dominican version of a family curse.  Fuku follows a family through generations and across oceans into different countries.  A theme through the book is: do bad things happen because a person is cursed or because sometimes bad things just happen?  I found an interview with Diaz on PBS NewsHour.  He says:

If you think about it, a curse is just a story that you may or may not inherit.  I mean, you can believe your famiy is cursed or you can say it’s not . . . I was really fascinated by that idea, that like, you know, this is a book about this idea that you can wake up, you can be born inheriting a story that you had nothing to do with

There was also an interesting quote about the importance of books in Diaz’s life when he was a kid, after his family moved to the US from the DR when he was 6 years old:

I think part of my desire and my love of books wasn’t just this kind of random encounter with them.  It was an attempt for a kid who, in some ways, miraculously teleported out of one world and appeared in another that’s so radically different.  It was an attempt of me to understand where I came from, where I was, how I got there . . . And I needed them, man, because it’s real confusing, though, to jump from the third world to the first world.

I was telling Manny about fuku while walking in Brooklyn a few days ago.  We turned a corner and there it was, the word spray painted in white on a security gate across the street: “Fuku”

One Response to “The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao”

  1. Year In Review - Part 2 « The Book Mill Says:

    […] What was the best book you read?: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot […]

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