The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz is filled with racist remarks, vulgar language and stereotypes. It’s a feminist novel in disguise.
Yunior, a macho Dominican “playa,” narrates the tragedies that befall the de León family: Oscar, Lola and Beli. Each chapter focuses on a de León generation. The novel is fueled by the mysterious “fukú,” a family curse started by a malicious dictator that plagues the Dominican family.
Readers follow the de León family as each member undergoes an identity crisis. The annoying Yunior constantly taunts Oscar, an overweight aspiring writer and sci-fi fanatic, for not achieving “true” male Dominican characteristics. Oscar’s sister, Lola, transforms herself into a punk to escape her raging mother Beli. Beli is haunted by her torturous past, which affects her treatment of her children. It’s like a Dominican A Series of Unfortunate Events…
Oscar attempts to fight the fukú by writing his family history. He must conquer Dominican stereotypes, bullying and heartache to stop the sudden deaths that threaten his family. Throughout the novel, the reader is challenged to determine whether the fukú and Yunior’s stories are real, or a narrative allusion. Diaz’ “story within a story” technique is easier to follow than Inception but offers similar brainteasers (I wouldn’t say “no” to a Joseph Gordon Levitt cameo though.)
How is this a pink novel?
The misogynistic dictator discards women as if they’re napkins. His morning “to-do” list probably looks a little something like this:
While this novel is fiction, the dictator is not. Unfortunately, former Dominican Republic President Rafael Trujillo reigned from 1930 to 1961. Similar to the novel, Trujillo operated a secret police that handled his dirty work. He is known for renaming landmarks after himself, massacring thousands of Haitian immigrants and being a horrible human being.
The de León family perspectives, reverting back three generations, demonstrate the injustice and gender inequality located in the Dominican Republic as well as the States. The most intriguing aspect of this novel is its ability to compact gender and racial issues in a 335-page book. These issues combat head-to-head in the adventurous life of Lola: a Goth, Dominican, punk, intelligent and protective sister.
By writing a novel that plainly presents stereotypes and expectations, Díaz unveils race and gender illusions. Lola and Beli have faced brutal consequences at the hands of men and struggle with reality. These women are flawed and complex, yet possess an unsettling amount of bravery and strength. Multiple characters fail the expectations that were set for them and are forced to adapt or live in misery.
Yunior may refer to women as “bitches” and feminists will fume after reading his myriad of misogynistic remarks, but he unravels the history of the de León women with delicate accuracy. He weaves facts, opinions, stories and myths so effortlessly, readers may find themselves unable to differentiate between them.
Five Reasons Why You Should Read this Novel
1. Sci-fi fans will cry. A lot. The novel is littered with hundreds of fantasy, comic and novel references. Here’s a complete list. Eat your heart out.
2. Yunior’s casual language, slang and swear words are easy to follow and offer a welcomed chuckle. Rarely do you ever find gems like this:
“If he’d said no, nigger would probably still be OK. (If you call being fukú’d, being beyond misery, OK.) But this ain’t no Marvel Comics What if? –speculation will have to wait –time, as they say, is growing short.”
3. Lola is the next Katniss…minus the love triangle.
4. The frequent footnotes provide an interrupted history lesson in Dominican culture. At one point, the footnotes take up a whole page. In a Slate interview, Diaz stated that the footnotes“challenge the main text”and are like “the voice of the jester, contesting the proclamations of the king.”
5. The novel is a history lesson infused with mysterious events and mythical creatures. It offers the information of a history book with a side of Narnia in the tone of Chelsea Lately.
Díaz seamlessly combines Dominican and American culture with frequent untranslated Spanish phrases and American pop culture and sic-fi references. The casual narration makes Oscar Wao easy to read yet to fully grasp the story, readers should make time to research Oscar’s liminal culture.
Oscar Wao transports readers through generations as they travel to the States and the Dominican Republic, discovering gender and racial divides in each. For sci-fi, history or writing buffs, this novel gives a unique perspective regarding the strength of words and the power to retell history. Most importantly, a feminist perspective is enforced through horrifying anti-feminism stories and female Dominican strength.
BookSmart Nutrition Facts
Cost: $9 (the cost of a sandwich from Panera)
Titles by Author: Drown, This Is How You Lose Her
First Sentence: “They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that is was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles.”
Awards: 2008 Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Awards, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award