Speak, friend, and enter: “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” book review

The Brief Wondrous Live of Oscar Wao

 Junot Díaz

Riverhead Books, 2008



“Watching the streaking lights of the traffic below. Reviewing his miserable life. Wishing he’d been born in a different body. Regretting all the books he would never write.”

(Feature Image: http://www.newyorker.com/wp-content/uploads/2000/12/001225_R9422-1200.jpg)

Enter the fat and nerd kid in the person of Oscar De Leon. Oscar is a Dominican guy who grew up in the 1980’s New Jersey neighbourhood.  No need to imagine him, because the author Junot Díaz distinctly describe him as a Oscar Wilde look-a-like, a Dominican accent turned Wilde into Wao, thus the poor guy here was called Oscar Wao.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao chronicles the boring and extremely sad live of Oscar which would make every nerds out there depress. But his family has a secret: they are guided by the golden mongose, a mythical creature that made his clan successful, until of course the arrival of the fuku, a creature of evil which hunts his family into despair.

Well, all of those were old folks story but Oscar Wao’s story, his nerdiness, how he did fall in love, and fall in love hard with every girls in sight, the history of his family: his sister, mother, his grandfather, made all his narrative more intriguing and a page-turner. This book is a brave narrative of a family, a foreign kid saddled by his history and culture while trying to fit into a different world,that was until the fuku got the better of him.

Junot Diaz (https://media1.britannica.com/eb-media/71/126571-004-45E80D82.jpg)

Magic and Mystery

At the offset, Yunior, The Watcher and narrator of the story, introduced the reader to the fuku, a creature which seeming objective is to bring about disaster to every family it just needed to destroy, and so wrapping Oscar Wao’s story with magic.

At first I did not take Yunior’s claim seriously but as the story progresses and we came to know the story of Lola, his sister and especially the story of his mother, Beli, I came to accept that this guy was serious with this fuku and mongose stuff.

The very title of the book says everything about Oscar’s fate. Yes he will not live that long (and brief but wondrous life after all) and so the mystery of what will happen to Oscar would definitely keep you glued to the book. Combining these magical beasts with the mystery of Oscar’s destiny ensures that this story would keep any readers with anticipation, holding the book tight while reading it, encaptured by its magic and mystery.

“I guess I should have fucking known. Dude used to say he was cursed, used to say this a lot, and if I’d really been old-school Dominican I would have a) listened to the idiot, and then b) run the other way.” (Yunior, Chapter 4- Sentimental Education)

Nerd and Love

Oscar’s love story was shaped by heartbreak as was the fate of every nerd out there. And as like every nerd, Oscar thought that every females were, to use Yunior’s words, “to him they were the beginning and end, the Alpha and the Omega, the DC and the Marvel.” Of course Oscar did not stand a chance with girls, because, I’ll use Yunior’s words again for effing emphasis (and because he’s words are really funny and it hurt), “Oscar’s idea of G was to talk about role-playing games”.

The guy was hopeless, inspite of Yunior’s expert guidance, he did not badge. He wore his nerdiness “like a Jedi wore his light saber.” Oscar inhabited a world full of orcs and elves and jedis and dark lords and hobbits and sith lords, convinced that the rest of the world believe in them too. And of course he is fat, no judgement here, so a love story? Forget about it. He did have one though, or he thought he did, and as we all know what would happen in cases like this, it ended pretty badly, for him at the very least. Dude tried to kill himself (I’m sounding like Yunior here), but don’t worry it’s not the end of the story.

“Still writing ten, fifteen, twenty pages a day. Still obsessed with his fanboy madness. Do you know what sign fool put up on our dorm door? Speak, friend, and enter. In fucking Elvish! (Please don’t ask me how I knew this. Please.)” (Yunior, Chapter 4- Sentimental Education)


Family and History

Rayford W. Logan’s textbook “Haiti and the Dominican Republic”saved me from being entirely clueless about Diaz’s story. The thing about Diaz is that he’s brave, writing about in lengthy Spanish at times without pausing to translate what the he’s talking about, propagating the whole book with the history of the Trujillo Era, not to mention the endless footnotes. That would make the readers, like, “no thanks.”

But the thing about Díaz is that his narration seemed to hold any reader who would pick his book mesmerized with his words, his opening sentence: “They say it came first from Africa, carried by the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death of bane of Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began”would welcome you into his world, into his culture, into his country’s history, without even being apologetic for opening in such a fashion, like Oscar who would talk about Akira to a clueless girl. Why not? Díaz is telling his story, in his own style, and his way with words, like there was magic on it, I can’t explain, would carry the readers into an unfamiliar territory up to the point that we’re all hook with Trujillo and all things Dominican Republic even without the guidance of Logan’s textbook.El Jefe cries, Coño, me hirieron!

Another bravery displayed by Díaz in this book is that of the changing point of views of the story. At first it was the nerdiness of Oscar on display, then the struggles of his sister Lola before the readers were introduced to the two of the most important stories of the book, the stories of Bela, his mother and of his grandfather Abelard, all of these narrated by Yunior.

The most fun part of the book is the point of view of Yunior, especially the part where he was with Oscar in college, “We were at Rutgers—Rutgers was just girls everywhere, and there was Oscar, keeping me up at night talking about the Green Lantern. Wondering aloud, If we were orcs, wouldn’t we at a racial level, imagine ourselves to look like elves?”The humor and the tragedy and mystery mixed up in the book; with the ever-changing storytellers, all makes the book special, will make the experience of reading it unforgettable.

Readers will be left guessing about the fate of the Wao not until the very last pages of the book. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar was happy and sad at the same time, in some level, mirroring life as it is. Oscar’s search for happiness is our search as well.

“…it was the whole Chivato Nation he helped spawn, for like every Dark Lord worth his Shadow he had the devotion of his people.” (Chapter 5- Poor Abelard)

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