Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I was really looking forward to this book because I have a lot in common with the protagonist (the author?) I'm not Dominican but I do come from an immigrant family and I was also a ghetto nerd (minus the ghetto). Now, I wasn't nearly as nerdy as your stereotypical fanboy - I didn't play Dungeons and Dragons, I wasn't hugely into comic books or video games, and I still had friends, but Tolkien, Star Wars, and a LOT of books and alone-time helped me stay afloat in suburbia. Like Oscar, I was obsessed with the opposite sex but had no social skills, I hated running and physical exercise, I read vociferously to dull my pain and I wrote fictional stories to escape my reality.

Oscar is my homeboy.

All in all, I enjoyed this book. I love the colloquial voice and the seemingly regressive narrative (it starts with Oscar in the present day and it documents the lives of his family backwards, so after Oscar it's his sister Lola, their mother Beli, and then their grandfather Abelard). It was also extremely funny, but the humour comes at the expense of the Dominican experience under the harsh regime of the dictator, Trujillo. It's got some very heavy subject matter: sexual violence, violence, rape, misogyny, suicide, bullying, etc. but it's all presented in a very light tone but Diaz doesn't do this to diminish the potency of those travesties, but rather, he evokes a tongue-in-cheek prose to illustrate the absurdity of having a voice while you are simultaneously being silenced: the Dominicans by their own government, Lola by her mother, Oscar by the culture and society of steroidal America, and ultimately, of himself. The joking and the lightheartedness gets them all through the mess.


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