I'm just about to finish listening to "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao." I wanted to love the book, it was replete with geekiness. It's one sentence description says it's about a guy who wants to be "...the Dominican Tolkien." And there were many Tolkien references, and other geekiness, one great line about how Oscar "wore his nerdiness like a light saber." And it had a kinda mystical realism thing going on that wasn't unlike Marquez. That was fine. All in all, I'm just kind of "eh" about this book. It won the Pulitzer this year I think, or some other major literary hoopdedoo. All in all, as I say, it gets a resounding "eh" from me.
However (you must wonder why an "eh" book gets it's own blog post) I was just flipping through the reviews and comments on Librarything, to see what the LT world thought of the book. And I was fairly well shocked by what I found. Lots of people liked it, some people didn't like it, much as you'd expect. But a large percentage of the 32 reviews written (without counting, I'd guess about 25 of them) mention how they found the authors use of Spanish distracting, disruptive or downright despicable. Okay, no one wrote despicable, but I was on an alliterative slope there. I couldn't stop myself.
I was surprised that so many folks complained about that. I found the language off-putting at times, the English, I mean, because it was frequently profane, and while I'm not against profanity to any real degree, sprinkle enough through your narrative and I'll get annoyed. I'm assuming the Spanish was fairly profane as well. I have what could generously be described as a "Sesame Street Level" understanding of Spanish, or what can be made out of understanding a bit of French here and there. And I was listening to the book, so maybe that made a difference. But I never found the Spanish in the book irritating or inappropriate. I'm stunned that other people did. People wrote that they felt like they missed a lot, by not getting the Spanish. I didn't feel like I missed anything. In fact (and again, it could be because I was listening) I liked walking around with the sound of Spanish in my head (blissfully unaware of it's profanity.)
Collectively, y'all speak too many languages to answer this really objectively, but have you ever felt alienated from a book because it had phrases in a language you didn't speak?
P.S. My favorite review in Librarything a) has a footnote, and b) has a Star Trek reference. Let me just copy and paste it here for you, Librarything's "lampland"'s comment. Temba his arms wide.
He talks like a major geek, throwing in reference after reference to various movies and comics but to what end? He continuously paints himself as an outsider, as not a geek, but then he starts talking like a goddamn Tamarian* by saying things were Mordor or that he was Kaneda and never actually explaining what the hell he meant.
(*Remember that episode of Star Trek: TNG episode where Picard is kidnapped by that race of guys who only talk in metaphors? The universal translator would translate the words but still no one knew what they meant because there was cultural, contextual knowledge that accompanied those words. "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" and so forth. Well, that's what this novel is like reading sometimes. Díaz will take the time out to explain Dominican history, but not tell you who Galactus is.)