The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz
[As promised, here come the book reviews. I had some idea I’d churn these out in 15 minutes or less, to stop my perfectionism from making this task so large it would be unfeasible, but so much for that. It’s my intention to be more brief in the future, though it’s unclear I’ll be able to do it.]
I read this book just after A Confederacy of Dunces, which featured a wholly unsympathetic protagonist who is entirely too full of himself, and which I only finished out of my usual compulsion to finish a book I’ve started. It was a welcome relief to turn to Díaz’s book, which recounts the life and times of an awkward, bookish young Dominican man growing up in New Jersey and is a social misfit for essentially the opposite reason. Hopelessly shy and tending to hide behind comic books and genre novels, he dreams of being a writer, but as our narrator gradually explains more about his family’s story (and with it, summarizes a century’s history of the Dominican Republic in a series of extensive footnotes that would do Susanna Clarke proud) we begin to suspect that fate may have other plans for him. Even if you don’t have a special appreciation for books that teach history in an engaging way as I do, I’d happily recommend this novel.
PS: The book is written in “Spanglish”, a very flexible term which in this case means you can expect a smattering of Spanish words on each page, plus some Spanish sentence constructions. Why do this? Probably to reflect the way this character would have actually talked, or perhaps, as Gloria Anzaldúa wrote, to show native English speakers what it’s like to live in one’s second language and continually run across words whose meaning you’re never quite certain of. The publishers chose not to include a glossary at the back, but if you want that sort of thing the internet can provide.