Thursday, October 16, 2008

The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

Winner of Pulitzer Prize award for Fiction, and many recommendations and good reviews, I had decided to pick this up for read. It has also been heralded as the novel people have been waiting for, for 10 years. Dominican Republic born Junot Diaz , talk about a nerd boy with passion for sci-fi , crime thrillers and computer games in his first ever novel.

Oscar de Leon, lives in Patterson , New Jersey with his mother and sister whose roots are in Dominican Republic. Over 350 pounds and a failure with girls who is frustrated ( so is the reader) thinking that he will die a virgin. As he grew up in among his few friends who are normal and chasing girls as expected of their age, Oscar is busy writing sci-fi thrillers pages after pages. His attempts with girls often ends up in disappointment, often rejected and insulted at the first instance or dumped unable to stand his style.

The flashback sequences of the novel also explores the younger life of his mother Beli in Dominican Republic before she was 'exiled' to US by her relatives after being on the wrong side of the regime of Trujillo. She was fallen in love with a middle aged Gangster spending many nights with him and even getting pregnant. However, her gangster boyfriend is married to the sister of Trujillo. Soon she was detained and was taken to the cane fields, assaulted and abandoned by the attackers.

The second flashback involve Beli's parents in the early years of Trujillo. Her father, a respected Doctor from a wealthy family and her mother a nurse assisting the doctor in his job, lived in Dominican Republic under the regime, in the favour of the dictator. As their elder girl grow up, she are already the talk of the town and is in the 'wishlist' of the ruler. Trujillo does not hide his admiration towards her, and even managed to send an invite to the doctor with his family for a party. Though the doctor managed to prevent the inevitable at this point of time, the later events as they unfolds could not save him from the disaster. He was arrested and put in prison and torture and others die mysteriously, leaving the new born baby (that is Beli) under the care of one of the relatives.

Back to the story of Oscar; as he continues his nerdy stuff and his effort to win a girlfriend. As a predictable outcome, he falls in love with a small town prostitute during his visit to Dominican Republic and his efforts to win her over puts him in all sort of trouble ending up in a hospital bed beaten by one of her numerous lover & his men . He was packed and sent back to US by his mother and relatives, only to return back with more determination and the rest of the story is to take the book to an end.

Large number of pages are devoted to the history of Dominican Republic and the 30 year long dictatorship of Trujillo. Many times, I find the events repetitive. Though these are discussed with the history of Oscars Family, his grand parents and his mother's early life, it was a bit of out of way in the story's context. There is a brilliant book by Mario Vargas Llosa, on Trujillo and the time , called "The feast of the Goat".

There are whole lot of Spanish words and phrases through out the book which makes it often difficult to understand. While the chapters pertaining to Oscar and his sister is quite fast and funny, the others drag a little. The prose is written as being talked by Oscar's one time room-mate ( sister's boyfriend, Yunior) in most of the chapters, or through his sister Lola, or as a 3rd person narrative by the author.

Diaz, set the tone of his novel with the introductory pages about 'Fuku' ; the eternal curse on the Dominican People , or the world people in general. Fuku , the ancestral curse doomed upon generations after generations considered the reason for all the bad luck on the people and will be the biggest player in this story. For every thing happening to Oscar and his family over generations are all attributed to the Fuku factor.

This book has been published as a book the world has been waiting for 10 years. While it is good in parts , I do not find this as a compelling book as it has been projected it to be. I guess this is largely due to the digression from Oscar to Dominican history, the flash backs, and the Fuku.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Junot DiazFaber & Faber
340 Pages
Rs 495/-
More reads : NY Times, Stewart , Interview

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