Monday, September 14, 2009

Cannonball Read #43: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

I find gender politics fascination, perhaps nowhere more so than in South and Latin America. I think there's a great push to define them as good or bad and I think in the end it's simply affecting. Men can suffer just as women do in cultures where social power is skewed to one gender or the other. (Obviously this is not true of all cases of uneven gender dynamics; don't email me.) This is beautifully presented in Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Oscar is a geek. I relate! The problem is that beyond simply being a geek, he's a Dominican geek, and this makes all the difference in the world. In the world of Dominican power politics, there's no room for a man so invested in science fiction and writing. There's no room for a man without that outsized Latin swagger, or for one who can't even fake it. The story follows Oscar's life, but it also traces his history and all the small victories and massive failures that his ancestors have endured in the process of arriving at his tortured Dominican-American life. Oscar is a disaster with women, and this feeds on itself until it brings about his early end.

Oscar is a disaster with women, and this plagues him throughout - his friends leave him behind, his family mocks him or pities him, women never rise above friendship. This tale of woe is interwoven with his family history. Said history is full of mysticism and the same tragedy that plagues Oscar, and Diaz does a beautiful job pulling all of the strands of the family along through time and into the modern day. I feel like giving more detail would be a mistake, because the minutae of the family story and Oscar's life are what make reading the book such a joy.

Discussion is due of Diaz's superb writing. This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 and the award is well deserved. Writing is more than just stringing words together, though Diaz is terrific at that part of it. The inclusion of political commentary, geek lore and both Dominican and immigrant culture is seamless and adds incredible depth to the whole novel. This is all the more remarkable given the complete disaster that these topics are for lesser writers; I find that political commentary in particular frequently feels forced, and it absolutely sings here.

This is a great and more importantly unique book. A hearty recommendation for this one!

352 pages

1 comment:

  1. This is one of my favorite books ever. Love love love.