The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
rating: 4 out of 5
One of the best short story collections that I read last year was Drown by Junot Diaz. Diaz has a great voice and really brings his characters alive. Drown is a collection of gritty short stories about young Dominican men’s experiences coming of age in both the Dominican Republic, New Jersey and New York. The tales’ immigrant experiences include absent fathers, drug-use, interracial dating, and shoplifting. Since reading Drown, I have been eager to read Diaz’s first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. One of my books selected Oscar Wao as its November pick, so I at last had a reason to squeeze it into my reading schedule.
In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Diaz’s central character, Oscar, is a young Dominican man growing up in Paterson, New Jersey. Oscar is overweight and a huge fan of all things dorky: sci-fi, Dungeons & Dragons, and comic books. He yearns for true love and a girlfriend. The passion and energy that I loved in Drown is very much present in Oscar Wao. There are a lot of common themes between Drown & Oscar Wao. The story moves back and forth between New Jersey and the Dominican Republic and back and forth in time through several generations of the deLeon family and the “fuku” curse that they have.. The novel weaves in a good deal of 20th century Dominican history, telling of the reign of the dictator, Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the small nation for around 30 years, and the affect that his rule had on the residents of the Dominican Republic. We learn of how the fuku has affected several generations of the deLeon family giving them misfortune after misfortune, culminating in the lonely, love-starved life of Oscar. Despite his name being featured in the title of the novel, Oscar’s story almost takes a back seat to the story of his mother and his grandparents.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys immigrant experience stories or multi-generational family epics. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008. It will count towards the Book Awards II Challenge that I am participating in.