Oh boy, is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao an interesting, challenging, illuminating book. At first, I wondered if I would be at a disadvantage as I do not get most of the allusions to comic books (though the Tolkien, etc, is not lost on me)—still knowing these things is not necessary to find what you need in this book. I also initially worried over the footnotes—would they be a chore? Would I end up skipping them? Nope and nope. From the beginning, I looked forward to them and what they had to teach me—about the history of the Dominican Republic, about life.
So what about the story? Well, since two of the main characters (Yunior and Oscar) are writers, I’m tempted to call it at least partly a Künstlerroman—but if so, who is Diaz? Perhaps they both are—different sides of him, making one whole or who he was and who he might have become? Really, it is silly to speculate this way about fiction, but when a character in a book is a writer, it’s tempting. Still, this is not only a story about an awkward boy’s coming of age—it is also a story of family and survival and, most importantly, love. Big love. The biggest. The love which you risk everything for—the love you are willing to die for. The love that conquers all (perhaps even fuku).
Oscar is a poignant, painful, and lovable character—I felt for his awkwardness, his desire for love, his attempts at fitting in (the scene when he attempts to start the sci fi club when he is teaching was scorchingly painful to me), and his self-awareness which is in constant battle with his delusions. Equally impressive, are the female characters—specifically Oscar’s mother and sister. Their own brutal histories and sacrifices and survival are breathtaking, heartbreaking.
It’s a beautiful, luminous, and often humorous book told in only the way Diaz can—straight up and with no bullshit. Read it and you will learn something you likely did not know before.