We had a great Shelf Awareness Book Club meeting today to discuss The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. We had a small group today, but everyone present agreed that they enjoyed the book, though I think we all got something different out of it, which is great! Some discussion points from today’s meeting:
- We pondered over what the ultimate meaning, or message, of the story is. Though there are no doubt many messages you could take away, we discussed the idea of choice vs. fate as something significant. The novel revolves around the notion of “fuku” (a curse) and “zafa,” which is like a counter-curse. A dreadful fuku follows Oscar’s family for generations, with their lives being affected in many tragic and seemingly uncontrollable ways. However, the more we thought about it, we realized that most of the bad things that happened to Oscar’s family were due to their own poor choices. Beli’s ill-fated affair with the Gangster was a result of her refusal to listen to the sage advice of her adoptive mother, La Inca. Oscar’s lack of luck with the ladies is greatly due to his strange tendencies to follow random pretty girls around and profess his love for them, and failure to keep his intense nerdiness under proper control. They are ultimately responsible for their own actions, though they put down their bad luck to the fuku, which for them, erases that responsibility.
- We all were tickled by the proliferation of nerd references throughout the book. Many to The Lord of the Rings, but also to comic books, role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, even astrophysics! As nerds (though perhaps not as hopelessly nerdy as Oscar), we enjoyed having these fun references throughout the book because it enriches our enjoyment of the story! It almost feels like an inside joke when the author compares the dastardly Dominican dictator Trujillo to the Dark Lord Sauron, and you know exactly who the author is talking about.
- The story of Oscar Wao is deeply entrenched in the history of the Dominican Republic. In the U.S., our history classes often gloss over Latin American history, as we mostly learn about American and European history in school. Most of us had no idea about all the dictatorships in Latin America that took place over the last century, not the least of Trujillo, who looms like the Eye of Sauron over the action of the story. The long (and highly detailed) footnotes in the novel provide additional insight about Trujillo’s reign of terror, as well as more lighthearted fare, such as extended quotes from various comic books. We all agreed that we appreciated learning more about this history.
- With the novel’s tragic ending, some in the group thought calling Oscar’s brief life “wondrous” was misleading. However, upon further discussion, we realized that although Oscar did not reach the esteemed age of La Inca, in some ways, he did have a wondrous life. He finally experienced the intimacy of love, and he wrote his great novel. I don’t think anyone could call Oscar’s life “wonderful,” but it was indeed “wondrous.”
And last but not least, we all learned our new favorite word….pulchritude. Look it up! (Hint: Oscar is highly lacking in it.)
Overall, this book was very challenging in many ways, but ultimately worth the read, and we all feel more enriched for having taken the wondrous journey with Oscar, Lola, Abelard, and Belicia! Dare I say, we feel more shelf aware….