The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz is truly a wonderful book. All my book groups enjoyed it, and the conversations were lively, opinionated, and everyone had something to say. It’s interesting how differently individuals reacted to this book. Some found it angry while others hadn’t seen that part of it. Some found it hilarious although tragic. Some found it depressing. Just about everyone found it to be an interesting read. A real page-turner.
I’ll highlight below some of the points that were made in the various groups. You may or may not agree with them:
This really isn’t Oscar’s story. It’s Yunior’s story. You can hear his voice change, grow, as he narrates the book, and you can watch him change and grow, too. He comes to terms with who he is as a Dominican man.
Although the men acted macho, this story just underscored that it was all an act, a role they were playing, a mask they were wearing. The women were the really strong characters in the story. They were the ones who, although severely restricted to a limited space by the patriarchal society in which they lived, took action when action was called for. The results weren’t always great, but at least they did something.
Lola took on her masks, “performing” to others’ expectations, until she figured out how to be true to herself. Oscar was the only one who didn’t wear a mask, who didn’t play a role, perhaps because he didn’t know how to.
The question of complicity came up. And destiny. How much control do we really have over our lives? How much control must we cede to others? We talked about how Trujillo was a brutal dictator, but the Dominicans helped elevate him to mythological status with their stories about him.
Speaking of stories, and histories, and TRUTH, we talked about the structure of the book, especially the narrator and how he mediated the voices of the other characters coming through him.
What stories do we tell our ourselves? We talked about this, and the reason we tell ourselves stories.
We were all interested in the Macombo (magical realism elements) versus McOndo (gritty, street-wise realism) that are opposed to each other yet work side-by-side in this novel.
Oh gosh, we talked about much more: themes of identity, belonging, the “space in between,” authority–I couldn’t help but view the book through the lens of post-colonialism. And we talked about the brilliance of Junot Diaz. One of my members blurted out that she just so wished she could speak to him–a bit ironic, I thought, as we were talking about authority and how we give it over to others!
Bottom line: Run, don’t walk, to read this book; it’s amazing.