Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sawi sa pag-ibig

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is more than a narration of a geek's life story. It is a tale of epic proportions, spanning different generations and weaving horrifying stories of the Trujillo regime in Dominican Republic. Published in 2007, this is undeniably Junot Diaz's masterpiece, having won the Pulitzer Prize.

The hero is Oscar de Leon, an overweight, ugly, introvert, dark-skinned guy whose idea of entertainment is collecting comic books, watching sci-fi, and writing stories of his own. A quintessential geek, he has a hard time getting girls to like him.

The tragedy is that he adores girls so much that he dreams and salivates at the thought of them. Pressured at the fact that no Dominican man dies a virgin, he gets depressed when he sees his geekier friends having girlfriends of their own.

In many instances, too, he falls in love. He's an easy prey—any longing heart probably is. Sadly he is never loved back. Why the bad luck?

The novel's premise is that there is a curse—the fuku—one that has haunted Oscar's family for generations. The curse is traced during the year 1944, the time when Oscar's grandfather, a doctor, offended the dictator Trujillo, costing him his fortunes and his family.

The so-called curse went on to affect one of the doctor's daughters, Hypatía Belicia Cabral (or Beli), whose love affairs with men always ended up badly:
Beli in love! Round two! . . .  This was the real deal: pure uncut unadulterated love, the Holy Grail that would so bedevil her children throughout their lives.
True enough, the third generation is not spared from the fuku; this is where the unfortunate Oscar figures in.

The book reminds me a lot of Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex; both books trace historical landmarks, each generation having deep, colorful characters one would hardly forget. My favorites in this book include Lola de Leon (Oscar's sister) and Beli Cabral.

I liked Diaz's prose, but I would've appreciated it more if I knew a lot more Spanish. For example, in describing Jack Pujols, one of Beli's first loves, Diaz writes:
Jack Pujols, of course: the school's handsomest (read: whitest) boy, a haughty, slender, melniboien of pure European stock whose cheeks looked like they'd been kidnapped by a master and whose skin was unflawed by scar, mole, blemish, or hair, his nipples were the pink perfect ovals of sliced salchicha.
One thing that struck me, too, is that the description of Dominican Republic during the time of Trujillo parallels that of the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship.

The book is strikingly philosophical. Is there such a thing as bad luck running through the family, ready to destroy each generation? The book's answer goes like this.
So which was it? you ask. An accident, a conspiracy, or a fuku? The only answer I can give you is the least satisfying: you'll have to decide for yourself. What's certain is that nothing's certain. We are trawling in silences here.
And the ending is moving. The emotions are controlled—subdued, even—but every time I read it, I always end up staring in space, wondering.

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This may be off-topic, but I'd just like to mention that I don't necessarily agree with the book's idea of fatalism. It makes for great literature but doesn't go well with practical, daily living. For the Christian, after all, the certainty is found in God.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalms 27:1)

2 comments:

  1. Lance, how do you do it? Med school and novels. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's a conscious effort, Nico, often with dismal consequences. But sometimes, you just gotta do it. For sanity and peace of mind.

    ReplyDelete

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