The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

A novel – by Junot Diaz, and winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. An MIT Professor of Writing, Junot Diaz was born in the Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo) and moved to New Jersey. The main character of the book is in the same situation, and I wonder how much of the book is a reflection of his own life. My wife Sandra is Dominican, and having been down there many times, I understood more of the book than what I suppose most people would. That, and my basic knowledge of Spanish, was helpful since the book has quite a few words and phrases in Spanish. I originally bought this book for Sandra for Christmas, but she works so much that she hasn’t had time to read it. Instead, I picked it up, read a few pages, and found it to be written in an energetic and entertaining way. At first, I wondered how such a piece of fluff could have won the Pulitzer Prize

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - a novel.


, but that’s only at the beginning of the book – after that, it gets much more serious, talking a lot about the life of Oscar’s family under the dictatorship of Trujillo, who ruled the DR from 1930 to 1961. The book traces through the lives of Oscar, then his Mother, sister, and grandparents, all of whom have interesting stories. The narrator, Yunior (pronounced “Junior”), Oscar’s friend and college roommate, is the common thread as he tells the story, which includes an undercurrent of the supernatural, which Sandra tells me is common with Latino literature, such as with the famous Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who she read years ago, and who won the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature. I would relate bits of the story to Sandra at bedtime and she would smile or laugh at the distinctly Dominican superstitions or behaviors. The language of the book is pretty rough, with the N-word used dozens if not hundreds of times, but it all fits in with the story. There is an underlying theme of Oscar’s obsession with science fiction, fantasy, and role-playing games, and many times in the book things from this world are mentioned in relation to the “real” lives being portrayed. I wonder if it’s supposed to be a parallel to the superstition of the Dominicans  – it doesn’t really get developed in that way, though. This was a good book, and I’m glad I read it. I hope Sandra does one day find the time to read it.

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