Friday, September 24, 2010

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz ***

I like to read books that have won awards, I always want to see if I agree with the illustrious personages who determine which books are winners and which aren't. I don't know who decides the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but I agree with them about 50% of the time.

In this instance, I think the writer is great and the story riveting. But my beef is that I don't speak Spanish. I know it is an extremely common language in the US, but I have to say that when about 20% of the book is in a language other than English, I'm gonna get lost. And I'm also going to feel left out and irritated. I like to know what's going on, and that ain't easy when you don't habla. There's an arrogance about it too, at least in my opinion. Like if I was a decent intellectual I'd know what these words are, therefore I must be an ignorant slob. I guess I kinda like being an ignorant slob. I like things spelled out for me, I'm silly that way.

I have another beef too, in that I can't quite figure out what was wondrous about Oscar's life. I kept waiting for the epiphany, but if it happened it was probably in Spanish. Oscar is an overweight nerd of Dominican lineage, born in the US. He doesn't fit in anywhere, disappoints his family and himself, and can't seem to get a girlfriend no matter what he does. He's the consummate outcast, trying constantly to fit into society while reading and writing science fiction and collecting roll playing game miniatures. We learn about his family and the dark curse over them all, and most enlightening we learn about Dominican Republic history too. I knew absolutely nothing about the state of affairs in that country, so I was very interested in learning more.

As I said, what I could understand of the story was great. It was witty, funny, tragic, heartbreaking, a very good read. But I just don't like not knowing the whole picture, and not knowing Spanish was a huge deficit when reading this book.

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