A Spaniard once told me the beauty of the Spanish language is you could easily fit in as many as five curse words in under a sentence. Well, such a ‘beauty’ was surely seen in “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Díaz.
Expletives abound, this book is a semi-biography of Oscar de León, a second-generation Dominican Republic immigrant who grew up in the U.S., and his family history. This 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner must be one of the most entertaining family history/biographies I have ever read.
“And then the big moment, the one every daughter dreads. My mother looking me over. I’d never been in better shape, never felt more beautiful and desirable in my life, and what does the bitch say?
Coño, pero tú sí eres fea.
Those fourteen months – gone. Like they’d never happened.”
Oscar, an overweight, sci-fi loving and socially awkward guy, serves as the anchor to the book while backtracking on the lives of his sister Lola, mother Belicia and grandparents. Such layering gives the story more depth and texture while covering a variety of well-written topics of family ties, immigrant integration and growing-up woes.
“Beli at thirteen believed in love like a seventy-year-old widow who’s been abandoned by family, husband, children, and fortune believers in God. Belicia was, if it was possible, even more susceptible to the Casanova Wave than many of her peers. Our girl was straight boycrazy. (To be called boycrazy in a country like Santo Domingo is a singular distinction; it means that you can sustain infatuations that would reduce your average northamericana to cinders.)”
The liberal use of a mix of Spanish (half of which I do not understand) and English adds authenticity particularly when tracing hispanic immigrants and their relationship with their homeland. What made the story further come alive was the narration that is coarse, and at times vulgar, coupled with a wonderfully humorous sense of self-deprecation.
“Do you know what sign fool (Oscar) put up on our dorm door? Speak, friend, and enter. In fucking Elvish! (Please don’t ask me how I knew this. Please.) When I saw that I said: Dr. León, you gotta be kidding. Elvish?
Actually, he coughed, it’s Sindarin.
Actually, Melvin said, it’s gay-hay-hay.”
But top of all that humor, it was bittersweet to read about the dictatorial history of the Dominican Republic under former President Rafael Trujillo’s ruling, where his huge sexual appetite was rumored to be only satisfied with the very young and the prettiest ladies in the country. El Jefe, as he was ‘fondly’ called, was plainly evil.
“At the end of The Return of the King (third book from the Lord of the Rings), Sauron’s evil was taken by “a great wind” and neatly “blown away,” with no lasting consequences to our heroes, but Trujillo was too powerful, too toxic a radiation to be dispelled so easily. Even after death his evil lingered.”
This novel is more than just a spellbinding and magical read about Caribbean culture but also an authentic testimony of how we essentially are victims of history when our common past unknowingly shapes our present day life.