I absolutely loved the first book I read by acclaimed writer Junot Diaz (Drown), so I’m a little surprised that it’s taken me this long to pick up his first novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I’m not sure what was holding me back, but I am so glad I finally read it. Read is an understatement – I devoured this book. Basically anytime that wasn’t spent at work, eating or yoga, was spent reading.
The novel is based on Oscar De León – an overweight Dominican “ghetto-nerd” obsessed with sci-fi, fantasy, women and losing his virginity, who lives in New Jersey. Much of it focuses on his family – sister Lola, mother Belicia, grandfather and grandmother La Inca. It’s narrated mostly by Yunior, who is Oscar’s only real friend. Yunior has appeared in much of Diaz’s work as a narrator. Diaz masterfully intertwines the family’s story with the history of the Dominican Republic. Having read about the history of DR and dictator Rafael Trujillo, the historical footnotes were a nice touch. Much of the novel is focused on the family’s curse of the “Fukú” as it’s called in the DR and the story of Oscar’s family is weaved in between his. Chapters on his mother Beli, sister Lola, and grandfather Abelard are all painful and engrossing reads.
It’s so difficult to write a review of a Pulitzer Prize winning book. There’s a reason it won that coveted prize – it is wonderful. I didn’t mind the Spanish slang, liberal swearing or sometimes graphic sexual references which others complained about. Oscar is so open-hearted and earnest that you can’t help but be drawn in. I also loved Yunior from Drown so it was nice to have him back. Something I didn’t see talked about as often was how humorous the novel is. Parts of it feel as though I could have been talking to some of the kids I went to school with and I loved that about it.
As the title suggests, the ending is heart-breaking, a little surreal and mystical, but so very real at the same time. I loved, loved, loved this book. I can’t wait to read Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her next.