The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award
They say it came from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles.
Quick non-spoilery summary:
Oscar de Leon is a nerd, a sweet, overweight Dominican kid who likes sci-fi and fantasy and dreams of becoming the Dominican Tolkien. The book opens with a history of the fuku curse of the Caribbean and Oscar. Oscar, it would seem, was a victim of the fuku. Despite some early success with the ladies around the age of 7, things changed for Oscar, and the little Planet of the Apes lunchbox-toting boy lost his swagger. But Oscar never lost his love for the ladies. In fact his loves are what shape him. But it's not just the story of Oscar. The book also has sections on Lola, his sister, and a very long section on his mother, Belicia, and her life in the DR under Trujillo before she escaped to Nueva York.
Wow. That was my first reaction when finishing this book. I'm having a hard time pinning my thoughts down, so I'm going to start with the recent controversy. A school district in New Jersey came under fire recently because The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was included on the syllabus of a tenth grade English class and some people felt it was "pornographic". Clearly, these people have no idea what pornography is. There is some language, and it's about a teenage boy, who thinks and feels in a manner appropriate for a teenage boy (or girl for that matter). In terms of this kind of content it was similar to some YA titles that I have read recently, including the also challenged The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and Winger by Andrew Smith. Oscar Wao does not describe sex acts. The idea that it is pornographic strikes me as ludicrous.
Anyway, it's great. It's sad; it's funny. It has this great voice. The writing is vibrant and jumps off the page. The narrator is Lola's ex-boyfriend and Oscar's friend Yunior, and you can hear the text as you read. He sets the scene. You root for Oscar in his quest for love. He is like an epic hero of yore--only instead of dragons, there are dictators and high school and societal norms. Instead of a tall, swaggering hero, there is a fat Dominican boy with a heart and a dream.
If you like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, try The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie or Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I personally look forward to reading Diaz's short story collection, This Is How You Lose Her, which also features Yunior.