Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Fuku: A word you might not have heard of, but which you very well know about.
Fuku is what you will think about when you read about the Kennedy family and their unending misfortunes; from the assassination of JFK, to the plane crush and subsequent death suffered by his son JFK junior, to the other assassination of JFK’s brother Robert Francis Kennedy (RFK) and unrelenting deaths of various other Kennedys.
It is claimed that President JF Kennedy ordered the assassination of Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican Republic dictator who ruled between 1930 and 1961. It is also claimed that anybody who dared cross Trujillo would never know peace. So we have the assassination of Trujillo on one side and the Kennedy curses on the other side. And then we have math. And superstitions.
Fuku loosely translates to what you and I would call a curse.
But enough about the Kennedy’s. Let’s talk instead about the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. First, you need to believe the title of the book when it tells you that Oscar’s life was brief. Because it was. You shouldn’t however believe that Oscar’s second name was Wao, because it wasn’t. There is a reason he is called Wao though, and it has something to do with another famous Oscar. One I believe you know quite a bit. Think about it.
Oscar’s life story is told in an attempt to demystify Fuku, an act referred to as Zafa – a counter spell of sorts. We are told that we are all Fuku’s children, whether we know it or not. It does not matter whether you believe in Fuku or not, because no matter what you believe, Fuku believes in you (I swear I love Junot for smartass phrases like this. They are sprinkled generously all over the book. And he does not ease up on the curse words either. If you are anything like me, you might find yourself cursing a lot while reading this book – yes, I sometimes take my reading too far, I know)
The gist of the story is that Oscar is an overweight young boy struggling with his weight and similarly, struggling to catch the attention of girls. He falls in love numerous times, always spectacularly, with various girls and is frustrated when the girls he falls in love with pay him no mind. You wonder why the girls do this when he is such a sweet boy (the sweetest boy!) who would do anything for them. Is it because he is overweight? Is it because he is into sci-fi and comics? Could it be because he uses words like “copacetic” and “misapprehends” in ordinary speech? Because he is a nerd? A writer who is keen on finishing his (not book, but) books? Then you realize that it is probably because he is all the above. And you feel sad for the boy.
You are then taken back to the life of Oscar’s mother, Belicia Cabral. Taken far back to when she was a young beautiful woman with a well-endowed bosom. Taken further back to the days before she gave birth to Oscar and his sister. You learn about her childhood struggles with a relative after she was abandoned by her parents. You are shown how she fell foolishly in love. Systematically shown the craziness and the pain that love put her through. Where she quit college just because. How she was beaten half to death when the (married) man she obstinately insisted on dating, learned of her pregnancy. How she entertained the silly thought (like most girls do) that he would leave his wife, his marriage, for her. You will learn of her devastating loss, one that left her depressed and lost, and her health problems.
You’ll also be shown Oscar’s sister, Lola. A Dominican beauty – every inch her mother’s daughter. A budding woman who decides to one day shave her head clean, leaving her mother and Oscar shocked and lost for words. Her love for her brother will however not escape you; how she checks up on Oscar from miles away, how she requests her boyfriend to watch over Oscar in her absence, how she encourages Oscar to try and shed some weight…all that sister to brother love will melt your heart.
Oscar will then fall in love. And it will seem like the real thing this time. And this time, you will root for him so badly. You will want it to work between him and her because he really needs this, you know? You will want this one to work, even with all the odds working against them (and they really do) because how much heartbreak can one person take, right? Then you will find out just how much.
While reading this book, you will think you know who is narrating the story, then you will realize that you don’t – it got a bit confusing for me too. The narrator who will stand out though is Yunior, a guy who dated Lola and shared a room with Oscar. At some point, Belicia will take over and tell her story herself. Junot Diaz did a good job of confusing his readers on this one. Why dude, why?
If you don’t mind the curse words, and if you don’t allow the Spanish words to throw you off, you will enjoy this book half as much as I did. I suspect I enjoyed it way too much. As a matter of fact, I cannot decide which book between this one and The Book Thief I like better.
For that reason, I rate The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao a 4.8 out of 5 just as I did The Book Thief. I could never choose one over the other.
Apart from the art of cursing, this book will teach you one other (important) lesson: Love is painful. Too fucking painful!