I don’t remember much of “The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao” by the same author, which I read some time ago (this is why you have to write down what you read… never trust too much of the human brain), but I remember not being too impressed by it. It was not hard to read (maybe it should have been) but I vaguely remember a feeling of exasperation at the narrator, Oscar Wao, and his inability to come in full circle in his personal life. And once you find the main protagonist frustrating, it is hard to like the book. I didn’t dislike it, but I wouldn’t list it in my all-time favorite and memorable books, if you know what I mean.
The same goes for this one. Although I usually try to be ‘generous’ to the books I read and the reviews that follow (mainly because if I really don’t like a book, I’ll just stop reading it), I find it hard to give an all-time positive one to Junot Diaz, although he is an acclaimed author and has won prizes and all. This got me thinking if me not being able to overcome the huge gap that lies between him and me was the cause of this distance. The simple and basic facts that he is a man and I’m a woman, that he is originally from the Dominican Republic and I’m from Korea. Yes, however sexist and racist that may sound, I think it’s hard for me to connect with him on any level, if I cannot find any basic commonality. I first thought if the fact that he is a man, that his protagonists are male, and thus that his outlook is very male-centered might be the main problem. But then, so does most of Chang-Rae Lee’s characters, and I’m more on the side of ‘liking’ his books than not, and that’s when I thought maybe I can somewhat relate more to Lee because he’s Asian, and although I didn’t want to admit it, it sorta made some sense.
I don’t want to come off as such a close-minded person that I find it hard to connect with authors from different backgrounds, and I don’t think I am, since I like authors like Khaled Hosseini or Jeffrey Eugenides. But when it comes to such personal matters as Junot Diaz seems to deal with in the two books I’ve read, it’s naturally difficult to connect if I don’t have the same personal experience. So yes, it’s not him, it’s me. I guess the experience Yunior has, as a child being brought to the United States, as a son and brother in a not-so ideal family, with complex relationships, as a man finding himself sabotaging his best relationships, is simply something I cannot relate to. No matter how hard the author is trying to tell me that this is simply a boy who wants to figure out how to love, I am just frustrated at seeing him throw his life and future away, hurt the few women that have managed to see past his flaws, and treat the many other women in his life as easy check-through points in his life.
On another note, it is surprising how many modern male authors usually come up with such flawed and weak male protagonists, while most of their female counterparts usually tell the story of strong female protagonists who endure and overcome their current situation aspiring for something bigger and stronger. And in some weird, twisted way, maybe that’s proof that women are not the only victims of this patriarchal society. Maybe the patriarchal society, governed by a few ‘strong’ men has also left a large pool of average and weaker men to thread upon their lives carefully, at loss, forced to go on paths they did not intend to, without the guidance they needed. Maybe the absence of appropriate role models distorted the notion of ‘love’ and ‘care’ for them, and that is all they can act upon. Maybe the works of these male authors then, is an attempt at some kind of ‘movement’ that could be called ‘masculinism’, where they courageously expose the most fundamental flaw a human being could have, that of not being able to define or experience love and care.