The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – A Literary Analysis
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz is an engrossing novel that transports the reader to the intertwined lives of members of a Dominican family. Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic himself, Junot Diaz emerges as a highly credible spokesperson for his countrymen, narrating in painstaking detail the socio-political events that transpired in his country, with numerous references to the reign of terror of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, the Dominican Republic’s dictatorial ruler during the 1930-1961 era. On the whole, the book is an entertaining and informative, albeit lengthy narrative laden with footnotes which strikes a chord in the hearts of people who have journeyed to a foreign land and have struggled to adapt and find themselves. It is easy to see why the book has gained accolades and has been recognized as an artistic tiumph. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is replete with themes many people can easily identify with – love & passion, nurturing family ties, survival and resilience of the human spirit. The novel is not about Oscar alone. It is about Oscar and the many characters whose lives he has impinged on or are intertwined with his through blood ties and friendship. The book may well be the story of his grandfather, or his mother, or Yunior his friend. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is as multi-faceted and all-encompassing as that.
The plot of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is riveting. The novel opens with author Junot Diaz referring to Santo Domingo as fuku country. Fuku, Diaz explains at the beginning of his book, is “a curse or doom of some kind; specifically the curse and the doom of the New World” (Diaz 1). This sets the tone for the succession of events that unravels. In terms of point of view, there is an omniscient narrator, alternating with Junot Diaz himself and other characters of the book who are allowed to relay their innermost sentiments, angsts, and stories. Junot Diaz is clearly in his element, and proves that he is an adroit, engaging storyteller. The narrator changes as the series of events unfold. In some instance it is Oscar’s sister Lola who is speaking using the first person pojnt of view to express the turning points in her young life that many readers can easily identify with. She says, for instance, ”All my life, I’d been swearing that one day I would just disappear. And one day I did” (Diaz 63). Lola also expresses her conflict with her mother several times, and when she expresses her desperation for “her own patch of world that had nothing to do with her” (Diaz 57), she reaches out to so many other young girls craving for independence. Alongside Lola is Oscar’s friend Yunior who continues to adore Lola way after they have gone their separate ways and raised their respective families. Beyond infatuation and love, the book goes deeper and highlights the tenacity of Dominicans, as exemplified by Oscar’s mother Belicia Hypatia Cabral. The narrator states, for example, “Dominicans are Caribbean and therefore have an extraordinary tolerance for extreme phenomena” (Diaz 155). The strength of mind and will is likewise mirrored by Oscar’s grandfather Abelard. While Junot Diaz litters his text with lengthy footnotes and stresses a point or sentiment with the use of modern language and expressions, readers are able to glean an important insight and feel the impact of the story. An example is when the author says, “A thousand tales I can tell you about Abelard’s imprisonment – a thousand tales to wring the salt from your motherfucking eyes – but I’m going to spare you the anguish, the torture, the loneliness, and the sickness of those fourteen wasted years” (Diaz 260). Diaz juxtaposes Oscar’s story with the typical immigrant family who struggles to settle in and make America its second home. The author continually makes rich references to the stirring political histories of his native land, where the main characters eventually return to, and where Oscar meets his tragic fate.
Junot Diaz uses a mixture of Spanish and English terms to drive home his point about socio-political issues, family values, and the immigrant experience. The author’s prose is vigorous and his voice reflects his young, energetic and free-flowing mind. He employs an excessive use of urban slang and obscene expressions, which may grate at the senses of conservative readers. There are also reference to modern American television programs like “Three’s Company” and popular movies like “Terminator 2” and the book-turned-into-a-movie, “Lord of the Rings” to describe Oscar’s personality as a typical boy with ordinary interests. Like most typical and imperfect youngsters, Oscar is likewise depicted as a science fiction-loving nerd who grew fat with every rejection he got from the ladies he loved. What distinguishes Oscar from other people of his age, though, is that he is meant to live out his fuku story. The author effectively draws the readers in who accompany Oscar until he reaches the sad, although idealistic chapter of his life.
In terms of diction, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao uses formal diction interspersed with ghetto-language, modern expressions that lend an informal, casual tone. Junot Diaz is flippant one moment and seems to tone down the intensity of a dramatic moment like when women are portrayed in the throes of agony or suffering, or when the male characters, like Abelard, are tortured.
When Junot Diaz delivers the intriguing tale of Oscar’s mother, highlighted by her many loves, his storytelling ease shines through. The delusions of Oscar, Lola, and Yunior are easy to empathize with and add spark and vigor to the book.
Overall, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao makes a powerful statement about the plight of immigrants, while wonderfully crafting rich personages in one compelling book.
The author presents a fascinating montage of stories about the different members of Oscar’s family that he is able seamlessly weave together to comprise one interesting multi-generational family saga. By giving his characters a Dominican lineage, Junot Diaz not only adds a realistic dimension to his story, he also allows himself to speak from his own heart and from his own experiences to symbolically present searing accounts of what has befallen his own countrymen, particularly those who set out to live in foreign shores and dismally failed.
Diaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008