*This Review is Spoiler Free*
I bought this novel quite a while before actually getting around to reading it, which admittedly is something that occurs quite often in my reading life. I was at work and my manager had just bought The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I mentioned to him that I owned it as well. We talked about all the positive and negative responses to the novel that we had heard/read and then decided that we would both read the novel and see how we both liked it. I did not know anything in terms of plot for this novel, essentially all I knew was that the main character was an overweight Dominican American fantasy nerd, the book contained quite a bit of Spanish, and that there were footnotes throughout the novel. If there was one thing I did distinctly remember, it was all the complaining and griping people did about the inclusion of footnotes!
The first portion of the story is centered around Oscar, the next section is focused on his sister Lola, the third is dedicated to his mother Belicia (‘Beli’), and the final segment of the novel circles back to Oscar. I think it is important to mention that the novel focuses a lot on Oscar’s entire family and their individual experiences. There are many reviews that I have read of this novel that point out that the title mislead them into a false understanding that the novel was mainly about Oscar and that it in someway negatively impacted their reading experience. I also assumed that Oscar would be the only “main” character; however, that in no way affected my overall enjoyment of the novel. Diaz is able to begin and end the story with Oscar in a way that creates a “circle of content” that allows for everything between the ‘Oscar’ portions to be enclosed in the circle and directly related to Oscar. The reader is able to see how the events of the past directly affect the present. You are also able to see how Beli’s experience growing up as an orphan in Trujilio dictated Dominican Republic affected her and her children years after. The affects of other-ing, marginalization, racism, and sexism (among many other things) are incredibly prevalent throughout the novel, and are so beautifully and seamlessly woven into the story in a way that is so honest and truthful that it is easy to forget that this is a work of fiction.
Well…onto the footnotes and the inclusion of Spanish and Spanish influenced slang! The thought of footnotes and a language that is not English in an “English” novel may be off-putting to some, but I feel that it was actually incredibly important to the story. The footnotes about Rafael Trujilio are necessary for those who may not know who he is, what he did and how that drastically affect-ed/s Dominican people. In regards to the “Spanish issue”, I don’t see how one can be reading a novel about a Dominican American person and be surprised to find the language contained within, it just seems ludicrous to me! That’s about all the finger energy I am going to expel on those points because I could go on forever about this.
I would wholeheartedly recommend The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to any lover of Contemporary Fiction. Also, for those who like Historical Fiction, I think that there are elements to this novel that they would enjoy and appreciate. Oscar is a loveable and relatable character who loves some very nerdtastic things that are fun to read about. This novel is relatable as a whole, this is especially true for those who are the descendants of immigrants who lived in places of political unrest. If you are feel that you can read this novel without being put off by footnotes, the possibility of needing to search for a translation to understand a sentence, and reading about a family, then definitely give this novel a try. I give The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 8-out of-10 Unicorn Horns!