“Like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker.”
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
The horror!The horror! are the final words of Kurtz, Joseph Conrad's character, as he breathes his last breath and then, without much apparent connection, except for the exclamation, there are Yunior's words as he quotes Oscar: The beauty! The beauty! One man's terror is another man's praise of the beauty of life, despite the curse hanging over his head and that of an entire family and nation.
The wondrous life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz is a book about love. Every now and then, as a reader and a human being, you need to be retaught the lesson of undying love. The perseverance that lies at the pit bottom of our smallness is the driving force that pushes us to fight for the survival of love at all costs.
Oscar de León is a nerd. He lives in a New Jersey suburb with his mother and fabulous sister. He is passionate about science fiction books, dying to know love, ready to conquer a world that eludes him. The narrator Yunior is the opposite -a ladies' man who makes the most of his college years, loves Oscar's sister and struggles to be a writer. The rest of the book is a melange of history, side stories, the mighty fuku - the curse that defines all actions and shapes the fates of all- love tribulations, funky language, humor disguised as seriousness, and then some. It reads very conversational and vivid, a kind of narrative that flows into the reader and buzzes like a neon bulb. Aliveness and authenticity are the key words to the story.
I put a smile on my face while reading and then, made me immerse into the multiple layers of both characters and story lines, only to swim across the interplay in the clash of worlds and personae. Oscar is tricky to define and I got all these mixed emotions about him: pity, tenderness, admiration, hope, frustration. I could hardly make up my mind and keeping me alert is what the book was good at. Beside the story itself, you get a bit of everything: a history lesson on the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican Republic, Spanglish, movies, books, love interrupted, love as a fine cutting blade, love unrequited, love at last - The Beauty! The Beauty!.
It is rich beyond words and the Curse and the Doom of the New World haunts not only characters in this Dominican-American story, but the reader alike. The book is solid funny and there are echoes of other humorous characters in literature like Ignatius Reilly or Samwise Gamgee. It is remarkable how the eternal quest for love and happiness is given a comical, modern attire, family folklore and a shred of magical realism. It is a literary cocktail for the warm-hearted readers that will, at least, get a tingle of sadness at the end of the book. Beauty and ideals are still worth fighting for and heroes are those rising from the mundane and comfortable to escalate their own limitations in their pursuit of happiness. Which according to a lovely French woman in the Hector and the pursuit of happiness movie, it is worth trying to hold!