Friday, February 13, 2009

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Oscar is overweight, a sci-fi aficionado, and a sucker for beautiful—and not so beautiful—women. Not too surprisingly, he lacks the “mojo” emanating from all his Dominican relatives and neighbors and suffers because of his quirks.

Oscar's ups and downs are detailed in Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The novel jumps between Oscar's life and those of his older sister, Lola, and mother, Beli. Though they live in New Jersey, their fates are inextricably tied to the Dominican Republic and their ancestors there.

I was not overly drawn to or sympathetic with either Oscar or Beli. The only family member I truly cared about, was interested in, and related to was Lola, a loyal, loving, and patient sister.

In fact, perhaps the most intriguing and involving character in the novel is the Dominican Republic itself. Using mostly footnotes, Diaz explains the tragic politics in the DR's not-so-distant past. To my shame, I knew very little, if anything, about the area and had never even heard of the despot Trujillo before reading the novel. Oscar Wao gives an enlightening yet entertaining education on DR history and left me with a desire to research (and verify) more about these historical events.

Diaz has a casual writing style. The narrator relates Oscar's tale in a conversational, and thus often vulgar, tone. I found the storytelling comfortable and inviting (like listening to one of my male colleagues), but some readers may be turned off by a free use of profanity and sexuality.

Oscar Wao is an absorbing novel. Though I certainly would not have declared it the best book of the year, it is a good read for anyone interested in contemporary literature or Caribbean history.

No comments: