The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

This sprawling family saga takes in the Trujillo years of the Dominican Republic and the struggles of an immigrant family in oscar waoNew Jersey as background to its main character – a meek fat boy nerd who adores Tolkien and lives for his gaming, films, his writing, and full acceptance by someone of the opposite sex.

Oscar is a likeable but bumbling sort, a mountain of a kid who revels in the fantasy culture of the 1980s.  Whether it’s by a family curse or just his own bad mojo, Oscar is destined to be unlucky in love.  As someone as studiously self-educated into his fantasy worlds as Oscar, he is not the best at social encounters; he speaks with the language of the books he immerses himself into, so it’s a wonder that anyone gets him, and maybe no one does.

The women who do love him are family: his doting older sister Lola, track star and heart breaker to many, their adoring strong-willed grandmother, still in the Dominican Republic, and their well-meaning but abrasive mother, who works a ferocious amount and has recurring bouts with cancer, but isn’t ready to die  – not yet, by a long shot.

The narrator of the book eventually establishes himself as Yunior, an erstwhile boyfriend of Lola’s who agrees to be Oscar’s roommate and protector while they are in college.  He tells the back story of Oscar’s family in addition to Oscar’s endearing tale of woe.  You will learn, the hard way, why Oscar’s mom is how she is.  In fact, much of the novel is sorrowful, told against the harsh backdrop of the Trujillo regime (1930-1961).  Oscar is the innocent vein of hope throughout the book who believes in something beyond the family fate.

It helps to have some knowledge of Spanish, although if you read within the context, you can generally get the gist of what’s being said, with a lot of it quite bawdy.  I found the Urban Dictionary online helpful for the Dominican slang.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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