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Thursday 28 August 2014

Review: Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

This is the second Junot Diaz I have read - his This Is How You Lose Her was the first (it's reviewed on this site 28 December 2013)). It's a weightier book which weaves in and out of the terrible history of the Dominican Republic under the US-backed barbarism of Trujillo and since. It could be read in companion with Alex von Tunzelmann's Red Heat - a terrifying history of Caribbean dictatorships (reviewed on this site 9 June 2012).

It is verbally spectacular and at the same time very raw and direct. There are no euphemisms. The title is actually a little misleading insofar as there are several main characters whose story is told - the story of Oscar's mother Beli is developed at length and is perhaps the most emotionally powerful of the narratives though some readers might select the story of Beli's father, Abelard.

Written in English, a fair amount of text and dialogue is in Spanish. I am not the sort of reader willing to sit with an urban dictionary or to constantly Google. It may be that English - speaking readers in the United States can handle the Spanish but that won't be true of English - speaking readers in other countries (like my England). Maybe there should have been a separate edition for those readers with glosses or translations to make things smoother - after all, Diaz provides English when occasionally he uses French or Latin and it is not disruptive if done intelligently. I wondered if the Spanish - language edition leaves chunks of text in English. If not, then by parity of reasoning nothing would be lost by making this book more accessible to English readers who don't have (much) Spanish as a foreign language

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