Book Diary: La Maravillosa Vida Breve de Óscar Wao (Junot Díaz)

This has been the first novel that I have read entirely in Spanish, without the occasional aid of the English translation.  It was a real milestone for me, not only because of the fact of not needing to be assisted with the nuts and the bolts of the Castilian, but moreover because I looked forward to grabbing five minutes to read, or to getting into bed with this book at night, the same as I always have and always do with novels in English.  It´s hard to explain, but rather than the reading being somewhat removed – an experience on top of an experience – for the language not being native to me, I was able to enjoy the novel for being a novel and not only for it being a novel written in Spanish that I was pleased with myself for being able to read and understand in a more logical way, with more of an almost scientific interest (I wonder if that makes any sense at all to anyone other than my sister?).  I was able to enjoy it as a work of art rather than a learning exercise, I guess would be what basically I mean to say, but this doesn´t feel like it does justice to what a euphoric feeling that was when I realised it.

All that said, one of the things I really liked about this novel (and in fact about any novel by Diaz, is the way he mixes languages (in either edition, as the Spanish edition contains words in English and the original English version included a lot of Spanish), to find the most efficient and innovative use of the two languages together.  I borrowed the original English version from my sister, just in case there was some phrase I didn´t understand and wanted to learn.  However, in the end I abandoned it completely because every time that I went to check a word in the English version, to see what the translation was from the Spanish, it was always in Spanish in the English version!

Language is slippery in this way. Mira:

I used the word “panas” with a Madrileño and he said; “Isn´t that a Colombian word?” “I don´t know,” I replied, “I read it in novel that has been translated into Spanish from the original English, and the author was born in Santo Domingo and the book is about Santo Domingo.

To another Madrileño I said: “Lindo día!” And received the following terse response: “We don´t say that here.”

And perhaps the most confusing answer of all, I asked a Venezolano: “What does ´dique´ mean?”  He replied, frustratingly, but somehow also managing to summarise the whole beautiful and mysterious system that is language: “I don´t know, I´m too cool to use that word.”

I wonder if languages ever take a break from their constant evolution?  Like many things in life, it would be nice to fix it in a moment, so as to catch it and dominate it (just for a moment) before letting it free again.


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