Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Posted by nliakos on February 4, 2019

by Junot Diaz (Riverhead Books, 2007)

This is one of those novels which does not unfold chronologically. Instead, the story of Oscar, his sister Lola, his mother Beli, his grandmother “La Inca”, and Yunior (Lola’s sometime boyfriend and the narrator of most of the novel), is spun in a haphazard way, as if the chapters had been thrown down the stairs and then organized according to which step they landed on. It’s not always obvious who is speaking, or about whom. The reader needs patience to figure it out. Parts of the novel take place in New Jersey, other parts in the Dominican Republic. There are voluminous footnotes to explain references to DR history that a non-Dominican reader would not know. The language is a combination of Spanish (a lot of slang) and English; I studied Spanish in school for many years (many years ago, too) and could understand enough to keep going (even if the slang expressions were beyond me), but I’m guessing that a reader with no knowledge of Spanish would be flummoxed. (Example: Her advice? Forget that hijo de la porra, that comehuevo. Every disgraciado who walks in here is in love with you. You could have the whole maldito world if you wanted.) And there is a lot of bad language and an obsession with sex, asses, and breasts. (One of the principal conflicts in the story is Oscar’s inability to get laid.)

That said, I kind of enjoyed it. It wasn’t boring, I learned a lot about the DR, and I got to use my poor Spanish.

By the way, the author has been accused of sexual harassment; he has denied the allegations. It wouldn’t surprise me; the treatment of women in the novel was pretty sexist. They are tough and smart, but they are also sexual objects.

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