‘either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation’

waoFinished reading the novel over the weekend. Entered the book blind, only knew it has won the Pulitzer and that Jake’s been dogging me months ago to buy it but I didn’t because I couldn’t afford the hardcover. Thought “Oscar Wao” is a child and the novel’s a coming-of-age story. I suppose it is. But it’s more. Much, much, much more. I would like to summarize the novel and give at least a coherent book review but I know I’ll just end up sounding like the blurbs (“…deliciously casual and vibrant…” “[a] kick-ass [and truly, that is just the word for it] work of modern fiction” “…at times expertly stunning us with heart-stabbing sentences…” “a splendid portrait of ordinary folks set against the extraordinarily cruel history of the Dominican Republic in the twentieth century”).

What else can I offer? It reads like A Hundred Years of Solitude (family tree, curse, magical realism) as narrated by Kanye West. Or possibly Chris Rock doing stand-up. (“Players: never never never fuck with a bitch named Awilda. Because when she awildas out on your ass you’ll know pain for real.”) Just consider the way he describes their horrible dictator Trujillo: a personaje so outlandish, so perverse, so dreadful that not even a sci-fi writer could have made his ass up. Just consider the way he describes Trujillo’s assassination: the escopeta wielded by Antonio de la Maza…goes boo-ya!

Man, I’d like to see those words used in a history book. Boo-ya. And ass. Heh.

So you don’t know Trujillo. Yeah, me too (I checked the encyclopedia – yes, I did, Volume D, “Dominican Republic” – but the article just skirted over the details of his dictatorship). And the narrator knows about your non-knowledge too, beginning his Trujillo crash-course with: For those of you who missed your mandatory two seconds of Dominican history. Perhaps with bitterness. Perhaps with resignation.

It’s about Trujillo, it’s about Oscar and his family, it’s about a raped country, it’s about diaspora, it’s about hating where you came from and not particularly liking where you ended up in, and yet dealing with it, just dealing with it, and how hard that is. This line just killed me: Ten million Trujillos is all we are.

Everybody should read this goddamn book.

Note: Title of entry from one of the novel’s two epigraphs (The Schooner “Flight” by Derek Walcott). The other epigraph came from Fantastic Four. Now figure that one out. :)

Photo credit: Redpen