Caroline’s Critiques: Pulitzer winner ‘Oscar Wao’ takes some work to get into
November 19, 2008
Craig — The 2008 Pulitzer Prize went to Junot Diaz for his first novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”
Set in the 1990s, Diaz tells the story of Oscar Wao, a fat nerd from the Dominican Republic, through the voices of people who knew him. Oscar started life “as a Casanova with the females,” but at the young age of 7, Oscar uses up all his charisma, and he is doomed for life by the fuku – an ancient curse.
Oscar’s older sister, Lola, was a gothic, punk chic who loved Oscar deeply and hung out with him all the time. After Lola tried to run away, their mother sent her to live with La Inca, her grandmother, in the DR.
While Lola was in the DR, she learns about her mother’s tragic past: the Trujillo gang, adoption abuse, a new family, falling in love, the beating in the cane fields and dreams lost.
Most of the narrating is done by Yunior, also known as the watcher, who was a friend of Lola’s and who roomed with Oscar, the introverted, sci-fi reading/writing geek, in college in New Jersey.
Throughout his life, Oscar falls in love with girls, but he has never been kissed. His love affairs amount to the girls only liking him as a friend and eventually breaking his heart.
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After one particular “break-up,” Oscar gets drunk and throws himself from a bridge in hopes of a quick death. He is unsuccessful. That, combined with Oscar’s mother’s cancer, prompts the family to return to the DR and stay with La Inca.
Oscar is a sucker for love and quickly falls for an older neighbor, Ybon, who is a prostitute, and who has a boyfriend. Oscar and Ybon hang out constantly, but once the boyfriend discovers the relationship, he has Oscar taken out to the cane fields and beaten.
The family returns to the U.S., but Oscar is so deeply in love with Ybon that he can’t imagine life without her. His family tries to get him to stay in the United States, but Oscar is driven only by love. Ybon’s boyfriend’s thugs find Oscar one night and again take him out to the cane fields. This time he did not return alive.
Apparently Oscar knew his end was near. Months after Oscar’s death, Yunior receives a package with two of Oscar’s manuscripts and a long letter to his sister.
Oscar’s brief, wondrous life was bound to be cut short. No one with his eccentricities would want to live for very long. He impacted everyone’s life he came in contact with simply because he was not influenced by his culture or society. Oscar was passionate about everything he loved, which was the DR way.
I pushed myself through this book; persevering through the many footnotes, the language barrier, and the foul words. Once I saw past the cultural barriers, I was able to embrace the characters, their lives and how each of them saw Oscar.