Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

No man can run away from his ‘roots’. It’s probably the reason why Sociology as a study regards the institution of ‘family’ to be the basic (and most important) unit of society.

It is your foundation, and without which, one tends to lead a shaky life. A life devoid of the inherent values that we are brought up with.

There are some who honor their family and its traditions while there are others who live in denial. You don’t need me to tell you which option is wiser, considering that when disaster strikes, your family will be the only ones who take care of you.

Junot Diaz’s book, The Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Diaz, deals with one’s connections with family, and how unbreakable these bonds are, even if one is seemingly ill-fated.

It is also a book that gives us an in-depth and honest look into the lives of people from the Dominican Republic, both settled in the United States and in this case, living in New Jersey.

Probably, the reason why it won the Pulitzer prize in 2007…

Is It Karma or Destiny?

At the beginning of this book, Oscar, the central character of the book, talks about a curse, called a ‘fuku’.

While this might seem odd to some people living in Western countries, it isn’t much of a surprise, especially if belong cultures that have a history that dates several thousand years.

The book weaves between the lives of Oscar, his mother Belicia, his sister Lola and how the bring this curse to fruition, in demonstrating self-destructive characteristics that are common Hispanic stereotypes.

It’s the story of a number of relationships that each of these characters have, and in doing so, finds themselves in complicated situations – mostly leading to severe bodily harm.

One wonders whether karma or destiny (considering the curse!) plays a larger role in how each of their lives turn out.

It is also a book where Oscar also returns to his ‘roots’, his country of origin – a homecoming, of sorts. However, it seems as if the destructive tendencies that plague the family continues to influence his choices as he ends up falling in love with a prostitute who is already with someone else.

The author, no doubt, also tries to throw light on the country’s situation under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo by telling the tragic story of his mother, grandfather and his two aunts as they meet their end in such unfair circumstances.

It also seems as if the curse that has befallen the family will not go away even if there is a counter spell, known as the zafa. One that Yunior, the only character in the book that isn’t related to Oscar, tries to invoke when writing this book – as he reveals himself to be the narrator in later chapters.

In Closing

To sum up Oscar’s brief and wonderful Life, he is a ‘ghetto nerd’, or as the book describes it, living in New Jersey whose passion for writing rivals that of his desire to be physically intimate with a woman.

Will his passions help him rise above the vicious cycle that Hispanics have to cope with in middle-class America? Or will they cause him to sink further, and bring the curse to fruition?

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