The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Díaz

I am pretty sure that I read and enjoyed Díaz’s book of short stories, Drown, years ago, but it must have been pre-log. It’s been so long, the first time I noticed this book, it was more because of its distinctive cover than recognition of the author. Then Díaz won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for this epic story of a Dominican family trailed by a fukú, a family curse, so I realized the book with the cover was definitely something I’d want to read.

Díaz’s narrator writes in a kind of Spanglish which is mostly English but the Spanish isn’t italicized to mark it as such, so the mixed language all flows together. It’s a only slight departure from the way mixed texts are usually treated, but it makes a big difference. There might be little nuances you’d miss without a foundation in Spanish, but you can definitely glean the meanings.

In some ways the book is incredibly political, as the family’s curse is tied directly to Trujillo’s reign, with sometimes lengthy footnotes filled with horrific stories. But the narrator has such a breezy voice that it never gets bogged down. There is ultimately a lot of sadness in this story, yet it’s carried off by an impressive cloud of hope.

There are a few chapters that seem to depart from the regular narrator, which is intriguing. It seems like a lot of books I’ve been reading lately have interesting narrative perspectives. Like Auster’s trilogy and my current read, Nabokov’s Pale Fire. This one too shifts in different directions in a few chapters in a manner that made me feel almost like I was reading a work in progress (as the narrator mentions doing a lot of research and then there are chapters not from his point of view), or maybe it’s just a record of the a story being slowly built over many years. That other level of consciousness — not just what we are being told straight-out, but what we can infer between the lines — imparts a certain energy to the book.

more from this author