Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

This book was published in 2007, written by Dominican author Junot Diaz and takes place in both New Jersey, where Diaz grew up and in the Dominican Republic, where Diaz was born. It won the Pulitizer Prize for fiction among many other awards and other nominations for prizes.

The novel's namesake is an overweight (as in 300+ pounds) "lovesick ghetto nerd" who falls woefully inadequate in the wooing of the opposite sex.  The only things that he really likes and excels at are role playing games and writing his science fiction/fan fiction stories.  Oscar and his older sister Lola were born in the United States but their family has immigrated from the Dominican Republic.  Most of the family believes that they suffer from "fuku americanus," the curse or the doom of the New World and which seems to be passed down from generation to generation in this family.  The curse began with the family's patriarch, a successful doctor - Dr. Cabral - , in 1946 when he was cursed by the high priest of the malady - Rafael Trujillo (the dictator of the Dominican Republican) and which ended up with him being put in jail. Embroiled in this entire thing is Yunior, another Dominicano, who was Oscar's roommate during their college years and who actually was involved in Oscar's failed attempt at suicide. His experiences with Oscar will forever scar him and follow him for the rest of his life. This novel is intended to follow Oscar's life, albeit a short one.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was just as much a snapshot of the history of the Dominican Republic during Trujillo's dictatorship as it was a novel about the family of this geeky boy. Diaz also manages to show us a snapshot of the political, psychological and emotional issues that the diaspora - the immigrants from the Dominican to the United States specifically - effectively in around 300 pages. The prose used is captivating and I loved the geeky science references and other literary references that were sporadically dropped throughout the novel; it made it feel like I was sharing a part of Oscar's obsession at the least and living in a part of his psyche at the most. I enjoyed the more contemporary parts of the book as opposed to the historical parts, but both parts were really well written and very effective.  The story itself is a very sad, sad story so don't expect to feel great after reading this book.

Generally a really good novel!

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