Saturday, May 22, 2010


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I think the only things I'd heard about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was that the author had an interesting writing style, it was a Latino-based story, and there were a lot of references to fantasy and sci-fi. Too interesting to ignore, so I picked it up.

Utterly amazing. It focuses on Oscar de Leon, who's obsessed with the sci-fi and fantasy genre, and who also happens to be a first-generation Dominican immigrant to Patterson, New Jersey and is painfully awkward and overweight. He speaks like a Vulcan, attempts to woo girls (spectacularly inelegantly) like a robot would, and will break your heart. He's the nice guy finishing last, and his teenage experience gives voice to what a lot of people went through in high school. Unfortunately, Oscar continued to go through it after high school.

The narrator takes an active role in the story, but you don't find out who it is until halfway through the book. In addition to Oscar's story, or perhaps as another way to tell Oscar's story, you get equal treatment of other members of the de Leon family, and I came away impressed by the way Diaz illustrates female perspectives. He builds out the family's story in a way that, I think, educates the reader a great deal about the history of the Dominican Republic (Matt, feel free to read the book and differ with this assessment).

I think that this quote from the book sums up why I liked the book so much:

"And every day he found himself watching the “cool” kids torture the crap out of the fat, the ugly, the smart, the poor, the dark, the black, the unpopular, the African, the immigrant, the strange, the femenino, the gay—and in every one of these clashes he must have been seeing himself. Sometimes he tried to reach out to the school’s whipping boys—You ain’t alone, you know?—but the last thing a freak wants is a helping hand from another freak."

Somehow this passage ends up being transcendent, rather than maudlin. Just read the book.

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