The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukú—the curse that has haunted the Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.
My love of all things from the Spanish-language canon is well-documented. If it sounds moderately interesting and you tell me it was written by a native Spanish speaker, I’m so there.
I picked this book up at a used bookstore some months ago, but sort of forgot about it until I remembered there was a movie coming out about it. Even though it won a Pulitzer Prize, I was still very surprised by how much I liked it.
The novel is highly readable and engaging. Told mostly from the perspective of Yunior, a smart, wise-cracking Dominican guy, this book reads like the least Pulitzer prize winning novel, ever. The novel is smart and clever itself, but beautiful, no. And beauty, sad to say, is an important criteria for prize-winning novels. Well, for prestigious prizes anyway. Which isn’t to say it’s not beautiful. It’s beautiful in a yucky sort of a way. It’s irreverent and exciting and highly sexualized and depressing all at once.
This is the story of the title character, Oscar, but also the story of his family. We’re given, not only Oscar’s (literal) whole-life story, but that of his mother and grandfather as well.
I like the angle of the fuku, the curse, that haunts everyone and everything in the Dominican Republic. I read In the Time of the Butterflies a while ago, which also told the story of Trujillo’s regime, but not like this. This is Trujillo’s regime in all its terrible glory.
Diaz has a masterful grip on pop culture and specifically, nerd culture. He weaves references in with ease, references to things I only know about because I took that specifically traced the history of science-fiction as a genre. Which brings me to the contrast between the two. The science-fiction and the real and how reality is often stranger and scarier than any fiction.
While I was drawn in and engrossed by the high energy of this novel, I ultimately found it very sad. Poor Oscar. I mean, I suspected that things weren’t going to be great for Oscar, but not to that degree. Poor, poor Oscar.
On the other hand, I’m very excited to read more from Junot Diaz. He’s quite a talented and skillful writer.
Have any of you read this novel?