All I knew about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was that it was about an obese, nerdy Dominican boy. What I didn't expect was to be drawn so comAll I knew about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was that it was about an obese, nerdy Dominican boy. What I didn't expect was to be drawn so completely into his world, with his family history as it intersected with the tumultuous political history of the Dominican Republic. But, as the title suggests, this cross-generational story begins with Oscar. Oscar de Leon, unlucky in love and in his enormous physicality, obsessed with all things science fiction, fantasy and geeky, contends with a long standing family curse known as "fuku".
While Oscar pursues, unsuccessfully, a multitude of unattainable women (cursed are the geeky not born in the era of the internet), his older sister Lola fights her own battle, primarily against her domineering mother, Belicia. I loved the exploration of fraught mother-daughter relationships, it had just the right amount of familial loyalty and genuine clashes of personality, the struggle for power that goes along with that. The relationship is enriched as we learn of Belicia's hugely traumatic past as an orphaned girl in the Dominican Republic, and her own relationship with her mother-figure, La Inca. The violence of the Trujillo era and the family fuku haunts and shapes them all.
This is also the first full-length audiobook I've listened to, and it was such a great experience. Different from physically reading, but I wasn't as easily distracted as I thought I would be. The narrator, composer and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda, had such a great voice, not afraid to affect a nasally whine for Oscar, a great sense of comic timing. Even Karen Olivo's take on Lola had the right amount of weariness and rebellious attitude.
The act of listening to the text probably made the comprehension of the generous amounts of Spanish a bit easier, thanks to verbal cues and tone. It was almost, I suppose, an immersive introduction to the language. The constant references to Oscar's beloved Lord of the Rings etc. did sometimes come across as a bit forced, and through comparing Trujillo to science fiction characters sometimes at the risk of trivializing the atrocities of his violent regime. But, isn't that how we approach and understand our reality, through our collective myths and storytelling?
Perhaps the strongest indicator of the power of the narrative is that since I finished reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I find myself missing the characters and their stories, their struggles and triumphs. A rich family story, deeply connected to the political history of the Dominican Republic, that bridges comedy and tragedy with ease. ...more
Awesome. And I don't mean that in the male teenage skateboarding sense - I mean it in the old-fashioned literal sense.
Most summaries of Jennifer Egan'Awesome. And I don't mean that in the male teenage skateboarding sense - I mean it in the old-fashioned literal sense.
Most summaries of Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad tend to point toward aging punk rock record producer Bennie Salazar and his assistant Sasha as the central characters of this novel of intimately connected short stories. However doing so relegates the other characters to mere bit-parts, but the power of this novel is that there are no bit parts - everyone has a story, everyone is connected, everyone's lives are affected by each other. Yes, Bennie and Sasha are probably the two key players, but what about Lou, or Scotty, or Stephanie, or Dolly, or Jocelyn, or Lulu, or ... you get my point. Their stories are so strong, their personalities so vivid and memorable that it is impossible to limit the focus on Bennie and Sasha.
The use of interconnected short stories never feels like a cheap gimmick (not even the powerpoint chapter, which is strangely moving all on its own) but rather an essential exploration about how use of language changes through generations, how time changes us and our relationships. Egan achieves such breadth and depth of character, story and theme within the constraints across the shorter form. All of the voices here are so unique, even those which are ripping on obvious sources. It is the array of styles and narrative voices, and how intricately they are all linked together, that makes A Visit From the Goon Squad so novel yet easily recognizable within the heavily networked, limited attention span of our contemporary culture.
I'm still left a tad speechless by just how much I enjoyed A Visit From the Goon Squad and I'm hoping future re-reads will offer a bit more insight. For now though, I'm more than content with the "wow, this is awesome!" reaction the book provoked in me, something that has been largely lacking in my reading so far this year....more