Entering the world of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was like going for a ride on that extremely high and swirling roller coaster ride at a theme park. As the roller coaster bumps, grinds, and plunges us to the depth of fear, we recuperate while wanting more. That’s the same intensity I felt while reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
So who is this Oscar character? Well he is a likeable, naive, obese, Latino nerd who’s looking for the purist love out there. He just wants to be loved and to love someone else. His exterior doesn’t help find it in the beginning of the story, but true love can’t be someone loving you for your body and good looks only, right? This is starting to sound like a fairytale, but it isn’t. It ‘s almost reality. Oscar spend his time playing video games, reading sic-fi and fantasy novels and writing them. It’s almost as if he delves into fantasy and sic-fi to forget his own reality. It’s like a sanctuary.
The novel centers mainly around Oscar, his sister and mother. These three characters are developed from adolescence to adulthood and this is an astounding character development because usually as readers we aren’t allowed to see so many characters develop to such a degree. In doing so, the reader is catapulted into the complex harsh reality of Oscar’s family. I say reality because the story is structured in that way. In spite of the novel being fiction, Diaz has the story be recounted by several narrators with one of the narrator’s telling the majority of the story. Not only that but the usage of footnotes through the story gives it an overall look of a non-fiction book. These footnotes give us a lot on the Dominican Republic history and is sometimes just funny. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is very similar to having sneaked a peak into someone’s diary. This may also explain the heavy usage of Spanish throughout the novel. This technique may put off the readers that aren’t Spanish speakers because understanding some scenes of the book are difficult if you don’t speak Spanish. However, for me personally not speaking Spanish, it didn’t bother me one bit. I just went with the flow. The Spanish parts just made me realise I was no longer in my world but in Oscar’s and that I was just going to have to contend with it. Everything in his world was colourful, intense, and genuine.
Besides the characters of Beli, Oscar’s mother and Lola, his sister, there are an array of other characters who revolve around them that give the story movement and layers. The settings added to this as well. We switch between New Jersey and the Dominican Republic and the juxtaposition of the two provides the reader with many cultural differences. The Dominican Republic is passionate, free, colourful, and dangerous. New Jersey is contained, regulated, almost predictable. The men in this book are detestable and either commit violent acts and/or treat women disrespectfully. Some may even say that Diaz’s male characters are mere stereotypes. I think these are men that represent maybe men from Diaz’s life or people he may have had contact with throughout his life. If he made them all nice he would have been accused of making unrealistic male characters for such a setting.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has a variety of themes and levels to it that it’s hard to believe it only has 335 pages. Some of the themes running through the novel are love, racism, superstition, sex, and foreignness among others, all wrapped up with a hint of magical realism. It’s almost a perfect book. Diaz took lots of risk structuring the book the way he did. It could have been a disaster adding so many different storytelling elements together but it was the perfect combination. So, if you’re looking for something different to read, a new sort of American novel, pick up The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s a worthwhile reading experience, will make you think about many things, and ill stay with you for a while. Moreover, Junot Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2008. Now if that doesn’t convince you to pick it up maybe this clip of Diaz talking about the book will.