Tagged: Junot Diaz

27. Reading: The brief wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Díaz’s The brief wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Faber and Faber, 2008) is an absolutely intriguing work of art. Maybe your first ever novel with footnotes, written in an exquisitely sassy Spanglish and so full of allusions that it made me wonder whether it is actually translatable. (There are, as far as I could see, at least 13 translations, among them Portuguese, German, Turkish, Japanese, Czech and Croatian, so yeah, apparently it is.) It’s a nonchalant ride not only through the “brief wondrous” life of Oscar, The Nerd, but also an introductory course to the history of the Dominican Republic during the 20th century, and easily the densest book I’ve read (at least) this year.

Now I am sure that had I read some more sci-fi novels (or comics, or anything considered part of that genre), I would most likely have understood more of the references to superheroes, villains, and plot lines with which the novel is splattered. There’s also some obvious salutations to magical realism. For reasons (The Nerd), the only thing this book lacks is a real (meaning: successful) romance, but also there really is neither time nor space for it given all the other things that have to be told about Dominican history, the family curse, and life in the diaspora.

How did I come across the book?

I don’t really remember, even though I do remember having heard of it. I do remember, however, that the story didn’t strike me as particularly interesting, and not even having read This is how you lose her last year convinced me. So what did? Maybe the Pulitzer, the fact that I have a thing for Caribbean authors, and that I got the used copy for peanuts, really.

When and where did I read it?

During the first two weeks of fieldwork. Definitely helped with the re-entry, even though I was often tempted to simply keep reading instead of going outside.

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6. Reading: This is How You Lose Her

Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her (2012, faber and faber) is the most impressive book I’ve read this year. (And it’s close to being the most impressive one for the last 12 month, too.) In a way, it could be considered the book-version of an essay I had to write in high school. My English teacher back then once made us write an essay about love, and after throwing a little pubertal tantrum about how this was too much of an invasion of my privacy, I resigned and meticulously enumerated and characterized all the different facets of love I encountered in the relationships to the people close to me. Now while Diaz also centers his story around an ego, Yunior, his love stories are (who would have guessed from that title?!) all failed ones.

Set in a milieu of a Caribbean migrant New York suburb, the language is sprawled with Spanish half-sentences, curse-words, and allusions that I imagine will be difficult to understand for the non-Spanish-speaking reader. However, this makes for an extraordinary vividness and caught me right from the start. The quality of the language stands in stark contrast to the melancholy that spreads through the stories, there’s little hope in love as there is little hope in life, it seems. But it’s not a sad book somehow, more one about the difficult choices people sometimes have to make and on how expectations can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies, and how one mistake can follow you around for years.

How did I come across the book?

I’ve been looking for Haitian Authors a few years ago, and discovered Edwidge Danticat’s novel The Farming of Bones [Huge Recommendation!] on the Parsley Massacre at the Haitian-Dominican Border in 1937. So I continued searching for contemporary writer’s with Caribbean background, and Diaz seems to be one of the big fishes. Then I found This is How You Lose Her on offer for less than a dollar, so I had to get it.

When and where did I read it?

Late January, mostly before going to bed, but also on the bus to work. The paragraphs allow for reading in smaller time slots.

I can’t, she said. I can’t make any mistakes. Why is sex with me a mistake, you demanded, but she just shook her head, pulled your hand out of her pants. Paloma was convinced that if she made any mistakes in the next two years, any mistakes at all, she would be stuck in that family of hers forever. That was her nightmare. Imagine if I don’t get anywhere, she said. You’d still have me, you tried to reassure her, but Paloma looked at you like the apocalypse would be preferable. (p.151f)