Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao

Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with his first novel, The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao. The tale centres around a Dominican family who live in New York, but a fair portion of the book is devoted to the family history and the obsession of Dominican people with fukú (curses or bad luck).

Oscar is the fat, intense, science-fiction and gaming geek of the family. (In fact the book is peppered with fantasy and sci-fi references.) Given this combination of characteristics, it is no surprise that he is a virgin and easily falls for women. Oscar is doomed to tragedy, just as previous generations of his family were the victims of bad luck and illwill (Hence the continuing thread of fukú in the novel). Diaz does such a wonderful job of presenting the lives of Oscar's family, that Oscar's ultimate end seems somehow fitting to the circumstances of his mother and grandparents.

A lot of the book takes place during the era of the Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo. Footnotes throughout the text provide context and background to this era. The tone and cyncial humour in which these footnotes are presented is just brilliant. In fact, Diaz's prose throughout the novel is energetic and vitalising. It's been a while since I read a novel written in such a vibrant and snappy manner. It is a fairly unique piece of work.

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