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The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

I am not Dominican. I did not grow up in Jersey. I don’t think/speak/act/live like Oscar, Beli, Lola, Yunior, or La Inca. Yet somehow the characters in this book resonate with me deeply, despite all of our apparent differences. I am not who they are, and yet I find something so familiar about each of them, see in them someone perhaps I know. My self-sacrificing mother, my gamer brother, my sassy inner Latina, the poor decisions of my youth and how I once terrorized my misunderstood mother… all of this flitted in and out of my consciousness as Díaz wove the tragic history of the Trujillo-era Dominican Republic seamlessly with hilarious references to Mordor and comic books and obscure sci-fi. I found myself engrossed in their stories, and by the time I got off the plane coming back from Memorial Day Weekend, I was almost done. I hadn’t been able to put it down.

Author Junot Díaz was named one of the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 fiction writers to watch back in 1999. Later, he would win rave reviews and a Pulitzer in 2008 for this, his first novel. Just a couple weeks ago, the now-professor at MIT was asked to join the Pulitzer Board.

You get a big picture feel for the DR across the generations, and somehow you also find yourself intimately engaged in the dysfunctions and triumphs of this family. His prose is punchy and slangy and raw and heartbreaking, peppered with spicy bits of Spanglish that even non-Hispanophones like myself can figure out, though I did find myself wishing I spoke a little Spanish. You just know a culture better when you understand its linguistics.

I know I’m a little behind (the book was published in 2007), but I highly recommend it to anyone interested in hearing a unique narrative voice. If you’re from an immigrant family, you’ll especially enjoy this book. The pulsing energy reminds me of John Okada’s No-No Boy, though less angry and less Japanese. Díaz is funny, poignant, and buzzing with an electrifying nerdiness. There are no slow moments in this book, not even when nothing is actually happening; such is the prose.

Read: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao(2007) by Junot Díaz


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