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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize.

Oscar is the epitome of the overweight nerd with one notable exception, his Dominican heritage. The machismo culture makes him even more of a loser. Maybe it is due to the fuku or curse that his entire family seems to live under. In an amazingly convoluted narrative we learn about the horrendous tragedies of his mother and her parents during the oppressive dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. You also get in depth looks at the life of Oscar’s better adjusted but still damaged sister, Lola.

The prose lives, like Oscar, in many worlds. It switches without warning from English to Spanish and Spanglish. Obscure references abound from history, fiction and science fiction geekery. Extensive footnotes fill out the historical backdrop or slang. Diaz presents a unique challenge for someone not well versed in Spanish, Latin American/Dominican History and science fiction but even without all of the background a reader becomes immersed in the world of Oscar.

There must be a soft spot in Pulitzer committees for overweight nerds for Oscar reminds us of a bit of Ignatius Reilly in the 1981 Pulitzer winner, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. However, unlike Ignatius, Oscar is all too aware of his shortcomings and the black cloud of the title hangs over the entire novel.

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One Response to “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz”

  1. I saw this author a couple of months ago on the Colbert Report. He was well-spoken and a really good sport. The book sounded interesting and I made a mental note that I should read it, but mental notes are pretty slippery and I forgot about it. Glad you reminded me!

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