This past weekend I was caught up with a cold passed along from a sister to a counterpart to a site-mate and, of course, to me. It was gross and snotty and uncomfortable, but it did afford me with a few lazy days recuperating in bed with cold medicine, hot tea, and, of course, lots of reading.
I plowed right through this next selection in my Sixty-Five Books You Absolutely Positively Must Read in Your Twenties and During Your Peace Corps Service to Better Yourself and Use Time Wisely Challenge (as pulled from this list, inspired by Buzzfeed) in nearly an afternoon.
Below, check out some details on number three, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz.
What’s It All About?
For the first few pages, I found myself thinking what the whaaa? I’m not really the top of the class when it comes to world history and politics, and the first few pages jump right into dealing with names and dates and locations and histories… Much of this novel takes place in the Dominican Republic during the dictatorship of Trujillo – something I know little of and only because I’ve also read In the Time of the Butterflies.
(I took comfort in the fact that it seems I’m not the only one; the narrator of much of the story has an awesome voice and calls it like he sees it, referencing said novel and letting me know a lot of people only know about Trujillo because of Butterflies, too. It’s a sad but predictable world we live in.)
HOWEVER. Get a few pages past the introduction and you are faced with a rocking novel about love, curses, science-fiction, and, of course, even more love.
Our protagonist Oscar – an overweight, socially awkward, love-sick, nerdy, science-fiction obsessed teen – serves as a spotlight in which to highlight the history of the Dominican Republic, both past and continuing, as well as tell a story of an unlucky family and their relationships with one another. And, above all, Oscar’s search to fit in and find true love while all odds seemed stacked against him.
The novel moves through different narrators; some of the story we get from Oscar’s perspective, others from his friend and sister; still other histories reach before Oscar’s time, relating events during the time of Trujillo that show just how pervasive and influential the actions of the past effect the future.
Does it deserve to be one of Sixty-Five Books You Absolutely Positively Must Read in Your Twenties?
Besides just being an overall great read, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao introduced me to a world of being I haven’t much considered. Let’s be frank here: I’m a young white woman from the Midwest, the product of two other white people from the Midwest – and on and on it goes. So many of the struggles and realities of life Oscar faces I have only considered from a far, removed distance. It was both fascinating and unsettling to read about his life. The author does a wonderful job of neither glorifying Oscar’s situation nor presenting it as one that deserves pity. It is a matter of fact story of a fantastical young man that inspired me in many great ways.
Any great passages or phrases outlined and loved?
This book was so well written I found myself trying to highlight the whole damn thing as I read along. I love a good, moving sentence, and Diaz constructs them like a total boss. For example,“This is how you treat your mother? she cried. And if I could have I would have broken the entire length of my life across her face.”
Or this:“And then when I was twelve I got that feeling, the scary witchy one, and before I knew it my mother was sick and the wildness that had been in me all along, that I tried to tamp down with chores and with homework and with promises that once I reached college I would be able to do whatever I please, burst out. I couldn’t help it. I tried to keep it down but it just flooded through all my quiet spaces. It was a message more than a feeling, a message that tolled like a bell: change, change change.”
I also love the humor:“He also sent an app to NYU, a one-in-a-million shot, and they rejected him so fast he was amazed the shit hadn’t come back Pony Express. “
Overall thoughts and conclusions?
I give it a hearty two thumbs up. It was a mild challenge in the sense I had little prior knowledge to connect it to, but that was also what made it so brilliant and defining. I was sad to leave Oscar – he really became one of those characters you wish were real. A truly awesome story.
And, on to four!