xvideos - porn videos

Junot Díaz: The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao

For the rest of the world, who had been waiting over ten years for Díaz’s first novel, following on from his short story collection, Drown, I hope the wait was worth it. For me, having never heard of Díaz until his book, The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao (2007) took the 2008 Pulitzer Prize there was no weight of expectation hanging around, waiting to confirm him as a genius or to wallow in what could have been. And were it not for the Pulitzer I would probably have remained ignorant of it as the cover is…well, ugly. Not something I’d pick up, never mind read.

Wao being a distortion of Wilde, used to ridicule him, the Oscar of the title is actually Oscar de León, an overweight nerd of Dominican heritage living in the United States who, unlike his skirt chasing contemporaries, is more into sci-fi, fantasy, role-playing games, and writing novels. Not that he doesn’t attempt some skirt chasing himself, it’s just that his lines, along with the rest of him, need a bit of work:

Anywhere else his triple-zero batting average with the ladies might have passed without comment, but this is a Dominican kid we’re talking about, in a Dominican family: dude was supposed to have Atomic Level G, was supposed to be pulling in the bitches with both hands. Everybody noticed his lack of game and because they were Dominican everybody talked about it.

Dominicans talking is nothing new – it’s in their history. And the history of the Dominican Republic plays a large role in The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao. While the idea of Oscar’s bad luck, to some, is something to be skeptical about, it could possibly be attributed to a curse in the family, referred to as  fukú:

But the fukú ain’t just ancient history, a ghost story from the past with no power to scare. In my parent’s day the fukú was real as shit, something your everyday person could believe in…But in those elder days, fukú had it good; it even had a hypeman of sorts, a high priest you could say. Our then dictator for life Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina.

The life of Trujillo, whose reign was one of the 20th Century’s bloodiest, and lasted over thirty year, mixes with the history of Oscar’s mother and grandfather and ties them neatly together.  And with a narrator -who doesn’t reveal himself until late into the novel – that wasn’t actually there at the events he relates, there’s much filling in of the blanks. There’s footnotes, too – loads of them – providing further history about Trujillo and the Dominican Republic, and it’s an unsettling experience, being dragged between narrative and notes, that soon becomes annoying.

And when it comes to annoying, The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao has another ace up its sleeve in the use of ghetto Spanglish. It’s understandable why Díaz has done this, given that it’s his narrator’s voice and to not do so would lessen its power but the Spanish is sometimes laid on so thick that, save taking time out to look up words and phrases, the context sheds no light. Reading this was reminiscent of the white boy in the wrong neighbourhood stereotype. However, I didn’t feel too fussed by the peppering of sci-fi and fantasy references, mostly alien too, because they seemed more like texture, whereas the Spanish felt important.

Yet, even when it annoys, the novel has an energy to its prose the likes of which I’ve not enjoyed for a while. It picks you up, and carries you along, to the end. Personally, I found the sections detailing Oscar’s relatives’ lives the least engaging, perhaps because of the distance between the narrator and the tales, whereas the Oscar sections flow with warmth, love, and humour. That they do is a pity because Oscar’s role, despite being the titular character, is minimal on the surface, with Díaz using him as a way in to writing about his political interests in the Dominican Republic.

I know I’ve approached the novel from the wrong angle – or at least, not that which Díaz likely intended – but when the book became a lost cause for me, I relied on the sections about Oscar to get me through. Who couldn’t love the nerd, even if some of his interests….well, you know:

Could write in Elvish, could speak Chakobsa, could differentiate between a Slan, a Dorsai, and a Lensman in acute detail, knew more about the Marvel Universe than Stan Lee, and was a role-playing fanatic…Dude wore his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber or a Lensman her lens. Couldn’t have passed for normal if he’d wanted to.

While he may not pass for normal, Oscar certainly makes an interesting character and it’s a shame that, for all the interesting history and story there, I couldn’t enjoy the book, except for the brief and wondrous pages of Oscar Wao.

July 25, 2008

7 responses to Junot Díaz: The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao

  1. You know, I haven’t heard from anyone who was enthusiastic about this book. Makes it hard to decide whether to read it. On the one hand, I want to be informed about the books of the times. On the other hand, there’s so much out there to read that I don’t know if it’s worth it. Maybe some day I’ll have to just sit down and try it for myself.

  2. Stewart said:

    Thinking about it further, Trevor, I think what’s hard to find enthusiastic about it is that the historical sections, lengthy as they are, are still told by a narrative voice so convincing that his familiar tone trivialises the weight of them (i.e. those about the Dominican Republic under Trujillo’s dictatorship – Dude was this…Dude was that…).

  3. chartroose said:

    Yes, I agree Stewart, and I think I’ll skip this one. Over-dialectisizing can be a real turn off, dude!

  4. jem said:

    I had this on a wishlist, although it was one of those that went on more for all the mentions it was getting than for an actual desire to read. I think based on your review I’ll take it off. Which is a good thing, because my list is way too long and any pruning is welcome!

  5. Stewart said:

    …the Spanish is sometimes laid on so thick that, save taking time out to look up words and phrases, the context sheds no light.

    I was in Borders yesterday and saw Diaz’s book, Drown. At least that edition had a Spanish glossary at the end.

  6. Jackie said:

    While I respect your opinion, Stewart, I feel that you kind of missed the point of this book. First of all, Spanglish is not a “ghetto” use of language. That’s simply how many fully bilingual English and Spanish speakers in the U.S. talk, particularly those that speak Spanish at home with their parents and English elsewhere (i.e. Oscar). Junot Diaz set out to represent this character faithfully, and doing so meant using Spanglish; worrying about whether monolinguals would “get” the Spanish bits is besides the point. (This isn’t mass market fiction; it’s high literature aimed at people who take the time to look up words in a dictionary if they feel it’s necessary.) I’m sorry if you and others found the Spanish annoying, but suggesting that accommodating to monolingual readers should be more important than faithfully representing a bilingual Hispanic character (of which there are 50 million in the United States) is ludicrous and mildly offensive.

    One more thing: Junot isn’t using Oscar to write about his political interests in D.R. The whole point of the novel is that you CAN’T TELL Oscar’s story without the story of the women in his life and the story of D.R. and Trujillo, a dictatorship whose effects are still felt by every Dominican today.

    This novel is absolutely brilliant and I haven’t met a single English monolingual who doesn’t think so. It’s fine if it wasn’t your cuppa tea, but I hope others aren’t discouraged from reading it based on your review, which missed the mark on several points.

  7. Stewart said:

    Hi Jackie.

    Junot Diaz set out to represent this character faithfully, and doing so meant using Spanglish; worrying about whether monolinguals would “get” the Spanish bits is besides the point.

    As I said above, I realised it was understandable to use Spanish as to do so wouldn’t be faithful to the character’s own voice. However, whoever his audience is it’s not me, as a narrator needs an audience, otherwise what’s the point in them spouting off?

    …it’s high literature aimed at people who take the time to look up words in a dictionary if they feel it’s necessary.

    Who, when reading, commuting or otherwise, carries a dictionary around with them on the off chance that a word may crop up that needs an immediate definition. I’m not decrying Diaz’s choice to use Spanish, just that the context of its use wasn’t very helpful. Coming from an education system where German and French were the taught languages, I understand I may see it different than a culture that may learn Spanish as a second language.

Leave a Reply

7 responses to Junot Díaz: The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao

  1. You know, I haven’t heard from anyone who was enthusiastic about this book. Makes it hard to decide whether to read it. On the one hand, I want to be informed about the books of the times. On the other hand, there’s so much out there to read that I don’t know if it’s worth it. Maybe some day I’ll have to just sit down and try it for myself.

  2. Stewart said:

    Thinking about it further, Trevor, I think what’s hard to find enthusiastic about it is that the historical sections, lengthy as they are, are still told by a narrative voice so convincing that his familiar tone trivialises the weight of them (i.e. those about the Dominican Republic under Trujillo’s dictatorship – Dude was this…Dude was that…).

  3. chartroose said:

    Yes, I agree Stewart, and I think I’ll skip this one. Over-dialectisizing can be a real turn off, dude!

  4. jem said:

    I had this on a wishlist, although it was one of those that went on more for all the mentions it was getting than for an actual desire to read. I think based on your review I’ll take it off. Which is a good thing, because my list is way too long and any pruning is welcome!

  5. Stewart said:

    …the Spanish is sometimes laid on so thick that, save taking time out to look up words and phrases, the context sheds no light.

    I was in Borders yesterday and saw Diaz’s book, Drown. At least that edition had a Spanish glossary at the end.

  6. Jackie said:

    While I respect your opinion, Stewart, I feel that you kind of missed the point of this book. First of all, Spanglish is not a “ghetto” use of language. That’s simply how many fully bilingual English and Spanish speakers in the U.S. talk, particularly those that speak Spanish at home with their parents and English elsewhere (i.e. Oscar). Junot Diaz set out to represent this character faithfully, and doing so meant using Spanglish; worrying about whether monolinguals would “get” the Spanish bits is besides the point. (This isn’t mass market fiction; it’s high literature aimed at people who take the time to look up words in a dictionary if they feel it’s necessary.) I’m sorry if you and others found the Spanish annoying, but suggesting that accommodating to monolingual readers should be more important than faithfully representing a bilingual Hispanic character (of which there are 50 million in the United States) is ludicrous and mildly offensive.

    One more thing: Junot isn’t using Oscar to write about his political interests in D.R. The whole point of the novel is that you CAN’T TELL Oscar’s story without the story of the women in his life and the story of D.R. and Trujillo, a dictatorship whose effects are still felt by every Dominican today.

    This novel is absolutely brilliant and I haven’t met a single English monolingual who doesn’t think so. It’s fine if it wasn’t your cuppa tea, but I hope others aren’t discouraged from reading it based on your review, which missed the mark on several points.

  7. Stewart said:

    Hi Jackie.

    Junot Diaz set out to represent this character faithfully, and doing so meant using Spanglish; worrying about whether monolinguals would “get” the Spanish bits is besides the point.

    As I said above, I realised it was understandable to use Spanish as to do so wouldn’t be faithful to the character’s own voice. However, whoever his audience is it’s not me, as a narrator needs an audience, otherwise what’s the point in them spouting off?

    …it’s high literature aimed at people who take the time to look up words in a dictionary if they feel it’s necessary.

    Who, when reading, commuting or otherwise, carries a dictionary around with them on the off chance that a word may crop up that needs an immediate definition. I’m not decrying Diaz’s choice to use Spanish, just that the context of its use wasn’t very helpful. Coming from an education system where German and French were the taught languages, I understand I may see it different than a culture that may learn Spanish as a second language.

Leave a Reply

Jojobet sekabet verabet