After reading through The Brief and Wondrous life of Oscar Wao my initial thought was ‘Thank God my life isn’t as bad as this guy.’ Within moments of reading it I was invested because of the relatable themes about body image, insecurity and stereotypes. Junot Díaz presents a stunning contrast between two distinct but similar worlds: the Trujillo ravaged Dominican Republic and the illusionary land of America.
Oscar is not the only one to suffer. His family’s misery spans generations, and it seems as if the fuku, the curse presented in the novel, is seeping out of the pages and trying to afflict the reader too.
The majority of the story is told through the eyes of Yunior, a college roommate of Oscar. The emotional tone of the character and his personality is clearing defined through his aggressive language. It’s effective in highlighting the horrors Trujillo was capable of. Chronicling the Dominican Republic’s bloody history educates a new generation of people unaware of what happened during a time when most were concerned with the conflict of the Second World War.
Being introduced to the concept of fuku was interesting, as was the counter spell zafa. Yunior’s telling of Oscar’s story is a way of counteracting the curse which has plagued the De Leon family. Two themes that gave me the impression of the physical manifestations of fuku and zafa were the Faceless Man and the Mongoose. The Faceless Man appears to each of the De Leon family, just before something bad happens. Conversely, The Mongoose appeared to Beli and Oscar as a protector, guarding against the fuku.
Díaz is skilled in giving his characters distinct voices, from Yunior’s ghetto slang to Oscar’s nerdy vocabulary. As an avid comic fan I can appreciate the multiple references Díaz makes such as the line which preludes the events of the book.
“Of what import are brief, nameless lives….to Galactus?”
The quote is perfect in setting the tone as it comes across as addressing the reader. Are you an omniscient being looking down on the insignificant lives of the characters in the book or are you just as meaningless? I enjoyed the sense of Oscar being able to relate to others through fantastical elements. He becomes the hero he wanted to be through the novels he writes down.
The Brief and Wondrous life of Oscar Wao is a book which takes an unlikely hero on an epic journey spanning generations in his quest to find personal happiness. It’s a refreshingly relatable situation that Díaz seasons with fantasy, sci-fi and mythology to create an exciting and thoroughly satisfying book.