Scot's Reviews > The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
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Mar 24, 2009

it was amazing
Read in March, 2009

Brilliant. Stunning. Enlightening and lyrical, sensitive and insightful.

Guess what? I loved this book! Best thing I’ve read in quite a while, and as far as I’m concerned, quite worthy of the Pulitzer Prize for 2008, the NYT Notable Book Award, Time magazine’s #1 Fiction Book of 2007, and all the other honors it garnered.

I had read Diaz’s earlier collection of short stories, Drown, and approached this book well aware of his gift for vibrant dialogue in conveying the Dominican immigrant experience. I was blown away by the consummate way he demonstrates that gift here.

With the wisdom and breadth of Neil Gaiman, when interjecting allusions Diaz draws upon such disperse cosmologies as Dominican folklore, Marvel comics, the world of anime, and the sci/fi classics of Olaf Stapledon or Isaac Asimov. He also demonstrates the magisterial sweep of William Faulkner (yes, I said it, bear with me) in tracing the pathos of a family curse across generations while using that family experience to offer greater awareness of a distinctive American cultural tradition steeped in strong and abiding beliefs about gender roles, race, class, and the sins of the fathers come back to haunt subsequent generations.

Along with a masterfully structured novel that sheds new light on what it means to be a Dominican-American we get a wonderful lesson in what it means to be a Dominican, what the history of the struggles for justice or survival in the Caribbean might look like from a perspective beyond that of traditional (white) America. And I loved the footnotes, for they were never intrusive but instructive, providing more of the melodic (yet sometimes stinging, sometimes sizzling, and sometimes giggling) voice of the narrator, which dazzles and sets the significant tone and tensions in the brief seven pages that precede Chapter One. Later in the book we get the voices of Oscar, or Lola, or even Yunior (whom we eventually come to appreciate IS the narrator), and those voices help us better understand this world and heritage of Oscar Wao, but it is that initial encounter with the narrator that seduced me into coming under the spell of this book so quickly and completely.

Ultimately, it makes sense to think of this book as one that casts a spell (even as the author wisely hints that books we think might truly hold such power could well be full of nothing but blank pages). This novel is a zafa against the fuku that Oscar et al had to endure, but on a larger scale it is a zafa for us all. Despite the despotism of the Trujillos of the world, I know what gives me hope and keeps me going: the romantic dedication of those like Oscar, the endurance of those like Lola, the fortitude of those like Beli, my belief in the possibility of Magic from a mongoose in a canefield, and the joyous exuberance of doing the perrito dance.
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