The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

the-brief-wondrous-life-of-oscar-waoThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the highly acclaimed multiple-award winner, is incredibly intricate under the surface of its seemingly playful tone. By exploring the immigration of Oscar’s family, Diaz interweaves the themes of racial identity, Dominican male stereotypes, the pride as well as price of being oneself, fate and curses, the nasty legacy that Trujillo left in Dominican Republic, love, home, freedom, and ultimately what it means to be American.

I was particularly interested in the use of language in this book. Boy, Diaz does not shy away from obscenities. Other than the change of narrators in each chapter, there’s also a fairly intimidating amount of Spanish throughout. Diaz is witty and humorous. I had some good laughs. Beyond his writing style lie some serious questions that people often seek answers to. It’s a book that makes you chuckle, tear up, and ponder at the same time. It’s so close to real life that it’s comical and tragic at the same time. It’s one of my favorite recent reads!

“There was the initial euphoria of finding himself alone at college, free of everything, completely on his fucking own, and with it an optimism that here among these thousands of young people he would find someone like him. That, alas, didn’t happen. The white kids looked at his black skin and his afro and treated him with inhuman cheeriness. The kids of color, upon hearing him speak and seeing him move his body, shook their heads. You’re not Dominican.”

Oscar’s life was a continual struggle of fitting in, seeking love, finding and losing himself. As an overweight and extremely nerdy Dominican male, Oscar never met others’ expectations and was made fun of his entire life. He fell in love again and again but only to be slapped awake every time. He couldn’t find anyone to understand him, not that he really understood himself either. Doesn’t he sound astoundingly unlucky?

The white kids judged him by his skin color, and the Dominican males saw his nerdiness and blocked him from their clan. What’s Oscar’s identity? He was a little bit of everything but not entirely anything. His final letter brought tears to my eyes. He was a boy who had high hopes for life but never found a place where he belonged and could call home.

“She is sixteen and her skin is the darkness before the black, the plum of the day’s last light, her breasts like sunsets trapped beneath her skin, but for all her youth and beauty she has a sour distrusting expression that only dissolves under the weight of immense pleasure. Her dreams are spare, lack the propulsion of a mission, her ambition is without traction. Her fiercest hope? That she will find a man. What she doesn’t yet know: the cold, the backbreaking drudgery of the factorías, the loneliness of Diaspora, that she will never again live in Santo Domingo, her own heart.”

Like many young people just embarking on new adventures, Beli had no clue what she was getting into or what she was leaving behind. She was a fierce and passionate young woman. With the most foolish stubbornness, she threw herself entirely into loving the wrong man. Her life spiraled out of control, and eventually she was exiled from Santo Domingo, her home and her heart.

Her life in America must have been unimaginable to her sixteen-year-old self. I wonder how she would’ve felt on the plane had she known what awaited her across the ocean. Beli’s story is just one representation of many immigrants to America. People came here for various reasons—whether it’s to escape, to explore, or to seek for a better life. When people left home, they probably didn’t think that they would never be back. But that in fact became the case for many of them. Like what Lee from East of Eden said, Americans must all have restless and unsatisfied ancestors. Otherwise none of us would be here.

“If you ask me I don’t think there are any such things as curses. I think there is only life. That’s enough.”

This quote is from Yunior, the omnipresent narrator of the book. The curse, otherwise known as Fukú, is thought by Oscar’s family to be the origin of all the misfortunes. For example, there is no reason for Oscar to this unlucky except for Fukú, right? Yunior’s quote really hit it home. Maybe there’s no such a thing as curse. Maybe it’s just life, which alone is enough to be dealt with.

Oscar attributed much of his bad luck to the fact he was cursed. Every time he failed, he thought it was meant to be. It probably isn’t the best way to go about life. Life is unfair, but it was especially hard for Oscar because he didn’t fit into any categories. He was a social pariah. But if he thought that he was dealt a random hand of cards just like everybody else, maybe he would’ve taken the path that he did.

More of my favorite quotes:

“It’s never the changes we want that change everything.”

“Nothing more exhilarating (he wrote) than saving yourself by the simple act of waking.”

“Later when he thought about it he realized that these very cousins could probably have gotten him laid if only he’d bothered to hang out with them. But you can’t regret the life you didn’t lead.”

Dude wore his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber or a Lensman her lens. Couldn’t have passed for Normal if he’d wanted to.

“These days I have to ask myself: What made me angrier? That Oscar, the fat loser, quit, or that Oscar, the fat loser, defied me? And I wonder: What hurt him more? That I was never really his friend, or that I pretended to be?”

“It was that feeling I had, that my life was waiting for me on the other side, that made me fearless.”

“But before I can shape the vowels I wake up. My face is wet, and that’s how you know it’s never going to come true.”

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