I finished Oscar Wao yesterday and was so sad. Not because one of the characters dies (although you probably know which one) or because Oscar’s family has gone through some major fuku, evil eye mess, or even because the couple didn’t end up together at the end.
I was sad because it was all over. That world that Junot Diaz created between English and Spanish – not so much Spanglish but not life on the Moor either. That world where he starts a sentence in English, pops in two Spanish words, and finish in street slang (Negro, please!). That world that I understood with my heart and my soul that I didn’t need to have explained to me at all. (When I started this little project, it was about rediscovering my voice and books like these ensure that journey’s success.)
So brief summary – Oscar, Dominican, ghetto nerd, falls in love and bravely commits suicide because his family, dating back to his grandfather has gotten the WORST case of fuku (i.e evil eye) ever in the history of literature. Ok, my summary is too simple but for details, read the book. You’ll thank me for it.
Anyway, so as I was reflecting on the book, its characters and plot, I couldn’t help but think… if Oscar de Leon was Cuban, he would so have seen a curandera/santera/whatever and this ugly case of evil eye would be gone. Done. (But then there would be no book, so I can’t complain. )
Down to the nitty gritty:
Junot’s voice in this book, expanded from his short story in the New Yorker, is crisp and direct. You instantly believe Yunior, the storyteller, because he speaks like a person, not just a character. No other character could have told this story but Yunior. Not Belicia or Lola or even Oscar himself. Yunior is far enough away to tell it like it is but close enough to know the insights needed to understand why Oscar’s life was wondrous and brief. Yunior, although not officially part of a family, is as good as a brother.
The book has heart, lots of it, and oozes with style. I adore the way dialog was handled — no quotation marks at all. It forces the reader to PAY ATTENTION because people are talking. There is no breezing through this book, it is a meal on paper, complete with desert on page 330 where you find out how life goes on. Lola has Isis (no relation) who soon learns about Uncle Oscar and the evilness that whirled around the family.
This is a story about family life in the Caribbean, as poignant as Julia Alvarez and as necessary to the written word as ink. It’s also about Diaspora who continue with life as if the island was only a road trip away. It’s also about American life and straddling cultures and worlds.An important story for all peoples to know about.
Next book: Days of Awe by Achy Obejas
Summary from Publishers Weekly via Amazon.com:
Born the day Castro came to power, the protagonist of this thoughtful novel comes with her mother and father to the United States when she is two, but cannot ignore her tangled Cuban roots. Alejandra San Jos‚ and her parents, Nena and Enrique, settle in Chicago, where Enrique works as a literary translator and Nena grows roses and sunflowers. Their neighborhood is predominantly Jewish, and as Ale grows up she picks up on small signs that her family has something in common with its neighbors. It is not until she is an adult, however, working as an interpreter, that she discovers that her father is Jewish, the grandson of a flamboyantly Jewish hero of the Cuban war of independence; her mother, though devoutly Catholic, has Jewish ancestors, too. On a series of trips to Cuba, Ale comes to know her father’s oldest friend, Mois‚s Menach, and through him learns her family’s history. In her stays with the Menachs, and her charged friendship with Mois‚s’s son-in-law, Orlando, she learns about contemporary Cuba and gradually comes to terms with her own identity. The searching narrative digs deep into questions of faith, conversion, nationality and history, exploring philosophical issues in human terms. Though sharp, cleverly observed details bring Havana and Chicago to life, the novel is richer in ideas than in depictions of place. Obejas (Memory Mambo) is concerned most of all with relationships between Ale and her lovers, male and female; between Ale and her secretive father. If the near-plotless narrative drags in places, it is redeemed by Obejas’s clear-eyed, remarkably fresh meditation on familiar but perennially vital themes. 3-city author tour.