The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Diaz
Reading Around the World: Dominican Republic
How obtained: second hand store ($3)

Oscar used to be a typical Dominican boy- read a lady-charmer- until one day his luck stopped. At age seven, he had two girlfriends, but soon after he broke up with one, the other broke up with him, and he never had a girlfriend again. His nerdy tendencies became a source of ridicule. And he became fat.Was it fukú- the family curse? Maybe, but most of the younger generation of Dominicans were sceptical of fukú, especially those now living in America like Oscar.

It’s never the changes we want that change everything.

What follows is  a snapshot into the lives of Oscar and his relatives- his punk sister Lola who struggles to get her own space away from their mother, his proud wilful mother whose life had many times of danger, his upperclass grandfather who couldn’t quite stay quietly unnoticed by the dictator… Above everything looms the shadow of Trujillo, the dictator whose 30 year reign was one of the bloodiest in the history of the Americas.

This book is written in the voice of one of Lola’s friends, who decides to research the family. he speaks informally- it abounds with slang and swearing, and has footnotes about the political/historical context scattered throughout, as if he is talking to us in an aside.

Initially I found the offbeat style (and educational aspects) to be enjoyable and interesting, but after a while the constant stream of bad things became wearing. Every character had struggles and traumas. He paints a pretty bleak picture of the Dominican Republic- with corruption, intense poverty, extreme sexism and power disparity between genders and violence. While these were perhaps at a peak during Trujillo’s reign, the sins of the old leader are perpetuated by the ordinary person still. It is a sad reflection of what happens to a society when it goes through such horrible times, and what people retort to.

“Lola swore she would never return to that terrible country. On one of our last nights as novios she said, Ten million Trujillos is all we are.”


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