Saturday, January 5, 2008

Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

A Wondrous History of the Dominican People [and Republic]
Through an Intense Family Saga & the Fascist Trujillo Regime

Book Review
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Juno Diaz
Riverhead Books, New York 2007

Review by Eric Green

When a good friend of mine gave me "Glass Castle: A Memoir" [Scribner, 2006] to read she said this novel was an amazing family story that you won't be able to put down until you read it to its end. She could not have been more on target. That was truly a great family of epic proportions that everyone should read. It was a slice of life in the USA that is repeated in other forms more than families would admit.

Then just a few weeks later she gave me the Junot Diaz novel to read, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. This time she was a little less enthusiastic; a little more guarded with her review comment. You'll learn about the Dominican Republic was her comment.

I must say that didn't get me to sit down and immediately begin to read the book. I generally don't read history books. But, since she did read the book; therefore, I had to give Diaz a chance.

Well, while her guarded warning held true for the first pages; when I got to about the 30th page I was hooked. Now, I heartily recommend this book.

We learn a lot about one Dominican extended family; and, that narrative was truly remarkable. Some might say the narrative is not particularly complementary to people from the Dominican Republic, but I would disagree. And, while a lot of the narrative will be better-understood people of Spanish and Latin dissent, any nationality will see germs of their own experience. In that sense this book has a universal quality.

What Diaz does is to describe the ravages of fascism in real life terms. He brings to the reader the on-the-ground, personal reality of the fascist government of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina's over 20 years of USA supported rule. He adds the Joaquin Balaguer continuation of the Trujillo government in profound gruesome detail.

[He mentions the brief tenure of Juan Bosch, which was ended ultimately by the intervention of the USA under its president, Lynden Johnson. This is a good history to review.]

This is the kind of novel that truly exposes the impact of what a fascist/ultra-right wing has done to a nation.

It is a book that presents the tragic and great lives of peoples who have had to face imperialism, neo-colonialism and ultimately freedom.

Diaz doesn't use this forum to present the question how many other nations, which endured and are during fascistic governments, supported and encouraged by imperialism too often lead by the USA? Going into the neighborhoods of NYC and other parts of the USA would, in part, answer that question.

Even the often-misguided "Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini [riverhead books], proves the point. Leaving aside the books misrepresentation of real events that took place in Afghanistan during the last 1970s and early 1980s which can be chalked up to the middle strata, anti-Soviet, Anti-communist, biases of his family, Hosseini's description of everyday family life under fascism in Afghanistan could not be more evident.

Yet, you would think that Diaz's book is depressing and something to avoid. Don't. The book is filled with humor, pathos and family descriptions that will stay with you long after the book is finished.

To my friend who gave me both the Walls and Diaz books: KEEP THEM COMING!

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