Ok, here we go with the next installment of the Best Books Ever Written. This time, its “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junior Diaz.
Oscar is a young Dominican teenager when we first come across him. He’s overweight, obsessed by writing science fiction and role-playing games, and has zero luck with the opposite sex. In other words, he is very un-Dominican.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao follows not only Oscar, but his family. In the middle of the book, the story jumps away from Oscar to to his mother, and her backstory.
I found this a little disconcerting when it happened, but as you read on, you start to understand why the author has done this, and why it’s necessary. Oscars mother was born into a wealthy Dominican family, but the family was destroyed by the infamous Trujillo regime. They end up in America, but later return to the island.
Rafael Trujillo was the ruthless dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic, and Diaz manages to tell us about the history of the brutal regime, not just as a backdrop to the story. Trujillo is a larger than life character himself, and casts a long shadow over the whole country. In a way, the story of Oscar’s family is more of a backdrop to the story of the regime, and the history of the republic itself.
Oscars obsessive personality plays a pivotal role in the story as much as the family history, but the stubbornness that Oscar possesses is clearly in the genes.
The recurring theme in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is the idea that Oscar’s family is cursed, and the broader suggestion that Dominican life is dominated by the idea of fuku’s or curses. The language of this book is hugely evocative, with a a liberal splattering of local Spanish and American street slang. It immediately transports you into the story.
Whilst I don’t speak a lot of Spanish (Ola!), this didn’t impact on my enjoyment of the novel. In fact, it reminded me of the bits in Breaking Bad where members of the Mexican Cartel are speaking in Spanish. It somehow adds to the story, even though you don’t understand the words.
Another interesting element of the book, is that its not clear at the start who is narrating the book. Unless of course, I missed something! It gradually emerges that the narrator, is effectively another character in the story.
Its not exactly a happy story for the most part, but it retains a relentless energy and still therefore feels upbeat.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a book that I definitely recommend. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and without doubt one of the best novels of the 21st century. Diaz has written a couple of short story collections, Drown and This Is How You Lose Her. I’ll definitely be checking those out too.