It’s been more than a decade since Junot Diaz’s short story collection Drown was published, and since then the literary elite has been eagerly awaiting his first novel. Those high expectations have been more than fulfilled: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a radiant book about tangled histories, dictatorships, curses, sex, myths, family, and (of course) love.
The novel is ostensibly about Oscar “Wao” De León, an overweight first generation Dominican-American comic book geek living in New Jersey, with an unfortunate tendency to fall head-over-heels in (unrequited) love. But it’s also about Oscar’s Dominican ancestors, thought to be under an ancient curse, and their country’s messy history — particularly while under the rule of dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo and his family from 1930 to 1961. Diaz’s razor-sharp prose is a thrilling mix of Spanglish and slang, pop-cultural and historical references (mostly through witty footnotes), but never resorts to easy preachiness or pretentiousness. Like its tragic nerd-hero, the novel is funny, heartbreaking, and wondrous.
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