Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Written in fresh street talk vernacular, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao exploded onto the literary scene last year. It follows the lives of one Dominican Republic family and the trajedies that befall them. Oscar is the main character, although oddly, in this novel of personal statements, Oscar is the only voice we don't hear. Much of the story is told by Yunior, Oscar's sister's boyfriend. Oscar is a fat, friendless man, who grew up without much human contact and can't seem to break through to have friends or loves. His sister, Lola, while more successful, is betrayed by her various lovers, a pattern that has continued from her mother's life.
Underneath the family stories is the bleak history of the Dominican Republic, and in particular, the brutalities imposed on the entire country by the dictator, Trujillo. Many Americans may only have heard of him in passing, but he ruled this country with an iron fist for decades. He was an absolute despot, killing people on whims, stealing children, demanding sexual favors from wives and daughters of families. Rape, murder and confiscation of property were commonplace.
Some readers may be put off by the street language, the graphic sex and cursing. While I didn't have a problem with that, I wasn't in love with this book. It was too bleak for my taste, with most characters having lives that were depressing and full of betrayal.

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