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Amber Paulen

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Junot Díaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The idea was that after Orlando I needed to read something easy; a quick contemporary text that as I read I could pretend I was laying on the beach instead of my arid Roman apartment. I chose The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because for a while there, the book was everywhere. Published in 2007, the book is short.

Junot Díaz’s prose is light, contemporary, like having an old friend from the Dominican Republic sit next to me and tell a story. I haven’t read anything by Díaz before, not one of the many short stories he has had published in The New Yorker. He interspersed the text with Spanish. The narrator remained a mystery until about a third the way through when his identity surfaced—a street smart Dominican immigrant, so the prose embodies his voice. This narration from his point of view was seamless. He is watching the Cabral family from the outside, close enough to get intimate, who has his own motivations to be interested in the family whose story he tells.

And then there’s the subject matter: a 20th century history of the Dominican Republic; the story of a family who lived (and died) through it. In this area, the book didn’t fulfill my hopes of lightness. Instead Díaz writes about a brutal regime, the Era of Trujillo, and a curse, fukú, placed on the family Cabral. The book is a tragedy really, as the title gives away in “Brief,” and somewhat fantastic, as the title also says with “Wondrous.”

And there is even much more to this book. The interweaving parallel stories of the characters at one moment cursed, at the next moment blessed. The sentences at the end of the sections where Díaz concludes with an uprising flair that drops down into the following section or chapter. And the sentences all around, casual yet surprising sometimes in their brutality or beauty. For example, a sentence picked at random:

As some of you know, canefield are no fucking joke, and even the cleverest of adults can get mazed in their endlessness only to reappear months later as a cameo of bones.

(‘Mazed in their endlessness’! ‘Cameo of bones’!)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was a hard book to put down. Not exactly a beach book, but a good book for the heat nonetheless.


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