This one was another reread for the Diverse-A-Thon. I originally read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as part of my Ethnic American Literature module alongside Junot Diaz’s shorter writings but it was nice this time to appreciate it in its own right.
Oscar Wao deals with several generations of the de Leon family in both the Dominican Republic and the United States of America and the fukú that curses the family. Centrally, there is Oscar- an overweight nerd who dreams of falling in love but falls short of the Dominican stereotype of a ladies man. The book is narrated by Yunior; Oscar’s college roommate and sister’s on-again, off-again boyfriend.
I loved the way it was written. Being narrated by a nameless acquaintance of the family (it’s not until later that it is revealed to be Yunior) means that it feels personal and the dense smattering of Spanish dialects makes the whole thing feel like being told the history of the family during a heart to heart. A lot of the story is sci-fi and nerd references (like Oscar having ‘speak friend and enter’ in elvish on his door) which is sweet- there’s this feel that knowing Oscar changed Yunior’s life forever and that’s why he can include all these obscure references.
There’s also a lot of footnotes regarding the history of the Dominican Republic. I must have skimmed them when I read this originally back in 2010 because I learnt so much about the country reading it this time around. It feeds the story too- gives context for the fears and tragedies of the family- whilst also highlighting a lot of history that is missing from most of our consciousness.
My only issue is that I didn’t actually like Oscar very much. He’s like every girl’s worst nightmare of the cloying, awkward nerd-friend who secretly harbours excessive feelings and gets upset when we don’t want to date them. In fact that’s exactly what he is. He’s not written as if that’s a good thing… It just is what it is. We’ve all had an Oscar in our lives at some point… Oscar Wao just takes it to its full, tragic extreme.
There was one quote that I loved when I originally read this book and I could still remember where abouts it was on the page (although I couldn’t remember it word for word). It’s beautiful and I think it sums up the whole book:
‘I think the word is crisis but every time I open my eyes all I see is meltdown’