Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz tells the story of Oscar de León, a self-proclaimed 300-pound "ghetto nerd," who lives his life immersed in a fantasy world somewhat modeled after the world found in his numerous science fiction novels.  Oscar Wao, a slang term for Oscar Wilde, collects comic books, plays role-playing games, reads countless science fiction and fantasy novels, and watches nerdy shows like Dr. Who and Star Trek.  But underneath hides something way more real and human, Oscar's insatiable quest for love.  
The book, which shuffles through several decades and two nations, tells the story of the De León family while illuminating the dark, corrupt history of the Dominican Republic.  It is filled with references and footnotes about this history, especially focusing on dictator Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic with an iron fist from 1930 to 1961.  The narrator is Yunior, a friend of the family, Oscar's roommate at Rutger's and sometimes boyfriend of Lola, Oscar's older sister.  Yunior, the total opposite of Oscar, is a weight-lifting womanizer, who epitomizes the ideal of the typical Dominican male.  But somehow, the chemistry between Oscar and Yunior works, and is even endearing at times.       
The language is loose and lovely, fluctuating between Spanish and English with science fiction references sprinkled throughout, creating a loveable slang-riddled Spanglish.  Diaz conveys the Dominican-American experience, and ultimately the human experience as a whole, in this dazzlingly wonderful, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.


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