NW

I opened NW on Friday night and immediately became submerged in this part of London that I’ve never been too.  I closed andIMG_1092 finished it late Sunday night.  My reading was supported by the excellent Penguin audiobook.  The two first-rate audiobook readers added to the tremendous life that Zadie Smith put into writing NW.  Each accent gave me that perspective I needed to relate to the characters but most of all to give me the right tone.  The tone that I imagine Zadie Smith was imaging when she wrote NW.  I found myself comfortably reading and merging into this complex story – “the story of guests and hosts and everybody in between” (back cover of NW, Penguin edition).  Uncomfortable. Challenging.  Shocking.  Colorful.  Sincere.  Brutal.  NW  packs the punch that maybe some aren’t ready to read.

NW is the story of two girls, Kesha and Leah, that have grown up together and been close friends for a long time. One is white and the other is black.  We follow them as young girls who become successful young women.  Their starting point is NW.  NW is their shame, their fond memories, their family, their friends,….  It isn’t far from shopping on the High Street, sightseeing on double-decker buses, and lounging in Hyde Park.  However, it seems to be a place that is important to both characters since it is the place they grew up, their focal point, and it is part of who they are, no matter how much they try to hide it.

The novel is split into 5 parts.  Each part tells the story of inhabitants of NW who may or may not be directly connected to the main characters.  The majority of the second half of the book is a series of short sections that are numbered from 1-185.  What is important is the feeling and ambiance that you’ll get as the story continues.  Contemporary in structure, this sort of stream-of-consciousness writing is captivating and spirited.  It will keep you hooked.  At times, it made me laugh aloud.  Nothing really happens in NW because it is a character driven novel.  Don’t go into reading this thinking it’s just a typical plot that moves from A to Z.  It’s more than that and you’re going to have to work to enjoy and to understand the importance of it.  Imagine trying to piece together a puzzle.  However, everything fits together in the end.  I highly recommend the audiobook, which is extremely helpful with the different accents.  Being American I would have had difficulty imaging them all in my head correctly.  Really, that audiobook made a significant difference.

The writing is continuous speaking, with scattered dialogue here and there.  It’s the first time I’ve enjoyed stream-of-consciousness writing.  I can’t explain it but for me it made sense.  The mosaic of characters, incidents, and life happenings made the story tangible, until I got to the end.  Sure life is abrupt, but the ending lacked a serious amount of reality.  That was the only thing that really bothered me.  I read somewhere that Smith was taking care of her young daughter when she was working on NW so wrote in chunks which is probably what gave birth to the numbered sections in the second half of NW.  All the same, I’m impressed with Smith’s capacity to capture the authenticity of each of her characters no matter how minor they are in dialogue.  It’s brilliant.  I could even imagine what each character might look like even though there weren’t necessarily descriptions.  Dialogue is so important and she is the “Queen of Dialogue”.

Having read White Teeth and The Embassy of Cambodia (loved them both), I read On Beauty and didn’t like it very much.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect with NW.  Well it’s really good, however a challenging read it is well worth it.  I’m rating this one 4,5 stars.  I have to say I’ve fallen in love with Smith’s writing again. The next Zadie Smith’s I’d like to read is Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays and The Autograph Man (nobody ever mentions it).

 

 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Osacar Wao

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 4961777loved 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.