21st Century Literature discussion

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
2012 Book Discussions > The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Resources and General Discussion, No Spoilers! (November 2012)

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Will Mego (willmego) for general discussion and this first post will be edited to add resources on the book and it's author during the month. No spoilers please, so nothing specific to any part of the book that you wouldn't get within the first few pages.

To begin with, the most common complaint is that the spanish lingo is tough, even if you're familar with Mexican slang, Dominican slang is it's own animal at times, and the book is riddled with it, a lovely person has created: http://www.annotated-oscar-wao.com/
make use of it, this might be all the difference to you enjoying the book or not.
A short story by Diaz: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/feat...
(we'll actually delve into this later in the month, but you can read it now)

If you have questions due to using this as an audiobook, or electronic form, and cannot tell where the parts begin or end, I'll add some notes, but if I don't have to, I don't want to risk spoilers for others if I can.

Will Mego (willmego) a very informative interview in Slate:

message 3: by John (new)

John (JohnnyFartPants) I gave up on this book as I was tired of trying to cross reference it with a Spanish dictionary.

Will Mego (willmego) hence the annotated oscar wao link above. You could also infer by context and not really worry about the exact meanings, as pretty much none of them are actually that important to the book.

message 5: by John (new)

John (JohnnyFartPants) I'm afraid that the only book I've ever bothered to read with annotations was Ulysses. Somehow, I don't think that this work is quite in the same league. But thanks for the information. Maybe when I have more time I might try again!

Carl | 286 comments I agree with the Ulysses comment. I did not know about the annotated guide when I read the book, so I found the Spanish excerpts a bit obnoxious, especially when I felt that I couldn't really infer what they meant, but I agree, one could infer with most of them. They didn't make me give up, but they were annoying. I'm sure he has a block of readers who love the Spanish so he would tell me to shove off, but I am less likely to read other books by him.

Sarahlizp My then-boyfriend (who was hispanic) was really surprised by how much I loved that book, since my Spanish education began and ended with Sesame Street. I didn't feel it necessary to understand all the spanish in it to enjoy the storytelling, the characters, and the clever, clever use of language.

Will Mego (willmego) I have to agree with Sarahlizp. The book doesn't depend on them, you can infer the meaning from context.

While I DO agree Ulysses requires annotations (I advocate two specific sources, in fact) I think that to drop this book just for that is, well, no offense to anybody intended, a bit lazy. Hate me for that statement if you like, but there it is.

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
Yeah, I too just went with the spanish. Often I could not precisely translate, but always felt like I got the idea.

Again, I found Diaz's additions of Spanish to be far more accessible than McCarthy's. I walked away from the Border Trilogy feeling like I'd somehow learned to read in Spanish by osmosis. This was easy in comparison. (Sorry to keep making this comparison. I'll try to rein that in.)

message 10: by John (new)

John (JohnnyFartPants) Will wrote: "I have to agree with Sarahlizp. The book doesn't depend on them, you can infer the meaning from context.

While I DO agree Ulysses requires annotations (I advocate two specific sources, in fact) I ..."

Well, I certainly do take offense at your comment. I am not a lazy reader nor am I a philistine, which you seem to imply. I just didn't like the book and that's my choice.

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
It's been a week or so since I finished, and I'm pleased to find it sticking with me. You never know till you live with a book for a while.

message 12: by Savanna (last edited Nov 19, 2012 10:37AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Savanna (SavannaSL) | 35 comments I came across this quote on Tumblr attributed to Díaz on the topic of his use of Spanish, which might interest some of you: "Motherfuckers will read a book that’s 1/3 elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and White people think we’re taking over." (Not that I think anyone here's making that kind of accusation!)

I also wasn't bothered by it and could somewhat understand but didn't look anything up. I actually really liked it stylistically even though I didn't always understand. It reminded me of being a kid and reading, not recognizing several words but coming to understand them through the context—which has its own sort of appeal, I think.

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

I grew up hearing Spanish slang from Mexico, so I did not "get" all of the Spanish. Sometimes I looked it up and sometimes I just gathered what it meant from the context. There's a point to this, I think. Part of this book is special and just for Dominicans and I respect that. I don’t mind being an observer during these points in the book that I do not fully understand. I don’t think that every book needs to be written in an accessible way in order to cater to the majority (non-Spanish speakers). The reason why it irks me, when people whine about the Spanish, it’s really because they’re not being included. Now, let’s think about this…have Dominican-Americans always been included in this country? No, and now the majority knows what that feels like. It contributes to the experience of Oscar’s alienation.

Daniel | 738 comments Mod
@J.L.: I love your point about not being included. It certainly becomes a Dominican story this way, rather than a story about Dominicans written through an American lens.

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
J.L. Your point is insightful. It never would have occurred to me, but it definitely rings true.

Casceil | 1672 comments Mod
Over the last week or so I've been reading Villette by Charlotte Brontë It's full of French, sometimes phrases and sometimes whole paragraphs. There is probably an annotated version somewhere, but as far as the author is concerned, dealing with the French is the reader's problem. It's true that the book dates from a time when all "educated" people were expected to be able to read French. Still, I think Diaz's use of Spanish is quite comparable to Bronte's use of French.

message 17: by Carl (new) - rated it 4 stars

Carl | 286 comments It's a beautiful kind of reverse snobbishness but really a plain snobbishness. Write for the Spanish-speaking audience or for the English-speaking one, but don't hold yourself out as grandiose for writing only snippets in a language many don't understand. Reading his quotation gives me good reason to understand his attitude, which is not at all appealing.

message 18: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (last edited Nov 23, 2012 01:45PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
This must make me a voyeur, then. I don't expect to understand a foreign language. And to be honest snippets aren't a problem. I can either look them up or skip them. I didn't feel ostracised by this book at all, but rather that I was privileged to glimpse another world view. As to Diaz's attitude? Well, it's not exactly pretty, but it can be ignored (!)

Cindy | 1 comments I am new to this group and new to the novel as I am not too far into it at this point. I am really enjoying this book and the odd Spanish word thrown in here or there. Coupled with the pop culture references it breaks up what is actually a pretty painful story (so far).

Deborah | 983 comments Mod
Hi Cindy. Yeah, it's pretty bleak. I think that the interjection of that quirky humor elevates it. It becomes necessary to have I don't know, distractions, maybe. It's a good point you make.

Savanna (SavannaSL) | 35 comments That's interesting, Cindy & Deborah. I was surprised by how the book managed not to come off as very depressing despite the sadness and violence. I think as well as the pop culture references and slang, Yunior's narration helped soften the blows. Plus, we knew all along from the title that Oscar wasn't going to reach old age, and I think that also interestingly took the edge off all the tragic elements.

Jennifer | 3 comments I enjoyed the use of Spanish in this book. I feel as though it would be inauthentic to exclude the character's native language from the text even though, I admit, the novel itself would have flowed a little smoother for me without having to look up translations.

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