This is the third in my series to talk about some of the books I’ve been reading this year. Next up is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.
The book takes you on a long journey through generations of Oscar’s family. From Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (DR) to NJ and back again several times over. Though the book gives insight into some of their experiences under Trujillo’s dictatorship, most of the story follows Oscar and his love for writing, science fiction, and his never-ending attempt to find what he thinks is love.
This was a very recent read for me (as in last week). One thing that gave me pause at the start is the narrator uses the n-word quite a bit. It was almost a turn off, but the use drops way down after the first chapter or two.
With the book following several members of Oscar’s family, it becomes clear early on that they’re dark-skinned. It also becomes clear that the DR is no different from the US and other western countries in that dark-skinned people are treated as lesser than their lighter skinned counterparts. This was interesting because so often we’re made to think of Latin countries as third world or developing. Yet the US isn’t always more advanced, even as we constantly say otherwise.
What I found most relatable about this is how indicative it is of the Hispanic experience in 20th century DR and the US. Either Oscar, his mother, or his sister go back to the DR several times throughout the story. This is something that happens all the time. And sure people of other nationalities do the same, but the US has become much more Hispanic in recent decades. As a Mexican-American I hadn’t read previously such an Hispanic story. That’s more on me than anything.
I didn’t grow up in a Spanish-speaking household. I wish I had, but the concept of Spanglish is something even I’m familiar with. Intertwining both languages effortlessly happens in so many households every single day that it’s impossible to put a number on it. That’s how this book is written and it makes it all the more genuine. Don’t ask me if I bought a lifetime subscription to Rosetta Stone afterward because I won’t tell you. Yesterday I said I couldn’t understand how that book won the Pulitzer. Not the case with this one.
This is an unabashedly Hispanic/Latin story and it could not have been better written. Every so often you read a book you know you won’t soon forget. This is one of those few. The best book I’ve read this year and #6 ever for me. An incredible work. 5 stars.
This is one of Amazon’s 100 books everyone should read.