Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Fuku- The curse and the Doom of the New World.

" is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fuku on the world, and we've all been in the shit ever since. Santo Domingo might be fuku's Kilometer Zero, its point of entry, but we are all its children, whether we know it or not."

That's a nice backdrop, no? A perfect setup for tragedy. This is the story of Oscar de León, as told mostly by a close friend who knew his family well. After the fuku prelude, the first chapter is called GhettoNerd at the End of the World 1974-1987, or how Oscar grows into a social outcast of a teenager, weighing in at 300 pounds, interested in role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons (remember that?), comic books, reading science fiction (ALL of it), and writing science fiction. He spends hours each day writing, and one Halloween, when he dressed up as Dr. Who, his peers laugh, joking about how he looks like a big fat Oscar Wilde. He was thus dubbed Oscar Wao.

Eventually, though, Oscar becomes obsessed with obtaining a girlfriend, which proves to be nearly impossible for a seriously obese guy with strange tastes. A few girls are happy to chat with and unload their problems on him, but--that's it. His self-esteem hits a scary low. After all, Dominican guys are supposed to be genetically infused with babe-getting skills.

In and out of Oscar episodes, author Junot Diaz paints Oscar's surroundings, his acquaintances, the life stories of his mother and sister, and their volatile relationship with each other. To explain his mother's early history, or how she came to be in New Jersey, it is necessary to embark on the history of The Dominican Republic under the shocking dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. Diaz puts most of the hard facts in his tantalizing and surprisingly humorous footnotes, as his mother's disastrous story progresses.

The narrative, as told by Oscar's friend Yunior, is a lesson in Dominican culture with its focus on the local language. It's very colorful at times and always intriguing. I've never read dialogue like this before. Yunior is Oscar's unlikely roommate during a year of college so that he can keep an eye on Oscar to please Lola, his worried sister, while she studies in Spain. Oscar turns out to be a difficult charge, to say the least.
Much later, after Oscar is out of college and teaching high school, he joins his family on a summer trip to visit family in The Dominican Republic (DR), where he meets an older woman and falls in love. Still miserable over his lack of love life, he makes the courageous choice to live and experience his dream, no matter the consequence.

That's making an involved story short! Once you start reading this, the pages will turn themselves. I loved Oscar, and highly recommend this book.


This is Toby the Teething Kitten. I met him in a used bookstore in Chicago (must must must check out used book stores), in a building so old that it had an elevator operator. This was kinda scary on the way down. Anyway, Toby is looking up at me, hoping I'll be dumb enough to try to pet him again. He didn't mean to cause pain, I know: the whole world, including our appendages, are toys to him. Ouch. He's cute, though, huh?


Doug said...

That sounds like a great book. Inside every 225# man, there's a 300# boy waiting to get out. Toby reminds me of Serena.

Tom & Icy said...

When I was a youth, I loved to go to a local Goodwill Store that had a basement filled with hundreds of old books. It was fun to just go down there.

Doug said...

Um, I meant to ask before, though. What's a fuku?

TLP said...

LOL Doug! Sounds a lot like f*ck you, doesn't it?

Love the cute kitty. They are so devious, no?

Okay, of course I need to read this book. Do you own it?

actonbell said...

Doug-haha, I had to read that a couple times to get that joke. I'm slow...and I don't think I did a great job portraying the reason why this book is so good.

Oh, Tom, I know! The local Sal Val has books now, so tempting. And I already have a pile at home.

Mom, I meant to add that this book does share a little something with Waiting for Snow in Havanna, in that both authors try to infuse humor into a painful story, both caused by evil dictators.

actonbell said...

oops, meant to add that I do own the book, Mom. And also that it took me until AFTER I'd finished the book to realize/notice that the red "stain" on the book cover is actually Oscar's profile.

Ariel the Thief said...

Wonderful shot, Actonbell, I love it.

Ariel the Thief said...

You should send it to lolcatz!

Nessa said...

The kitty is the same color as your jeans.

Fred said...

Even my cats smile before they bite me. They can be so devious.

Sean P. Farley said...

Could you please do me a favor? I'd like for you to STEAL THAT KITTEN AND SEND HIM TO ME! Wow, he's so cute. Seriously. I'm a big cat person (love them!). I know, no kitty could replace my wonderful Smitty/Moose (Keith and I each have a name for him, Smitty being mine, and he responds to both!). :)