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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    A wonder of footnoted fiction

    A wonder of footnoted fiction

    Junot Diaz, author of the bestselling story collection “”Drown,”” has published his novel “”The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.””

    Diaz writes about what he knows, which is Dominicans of mixed African, TaÇðno, and Spanish descent. These characters, who enthralled readers in earlier stories, now return to delight in this novel.

    Oscar Wao, the protagonist, is a young, overweight Dominican-American who, though smart and endearing, cannot seem to gain any female attention. His life, as you may gather from the title, is not a long one, but a spectacular one nonetheless.

    “”The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”” is about so much more than just Oscar. Diaz writes with the conviction that the brief life of one boy cannot fully be explained without attention to each member of his family, present and historical, as well as a thorough examination of the country and culture he comes from. As such, entire chapters of “”Oscar Wao”” are dedicated to his mother, sister and grandfather.

    “”The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao””
    Junot Diaz – Riverhead Hardcover
    5 stars!
    List price $24.95
    www.amazon.com

    Diaz injects rather more history into his novel than the average history textbook holds, providing footnotes for his fiction in places where the average reader (forgive me if you happen to be a scholar in Dominican history) may not be familiar with people and events. The history, though, is as funny and true to the narrative voice as is the rest of the story, and has a colorful, casual way of describing people – like former President Rafael Leonidas Trujillo – that is as rich with passion as it is with curse words.

    Diaz’s characters are not shy in their speech. They are happy to curse up a storm, and are as comfortable in Spanish as in English, none of which is translated – non-Spanish speakers may want to keep a dictionary handy while reading. Diaz is quite at ease addressing the reader with a variety of titles, from the friendly to the potentially insulting.

    He gets away with it, though, because the characters are all calling themselves the same names. Throughout the novel, Diaz refers to a motif of the fuku, a bad spirit in Dominican legend whose name cannot be uttered for fear of bad luck. This fuku is used to tie the cultures of the Dominican Republic and America together, and Diaz is creative with his interpretation of bad spirits in American history. Assassinations, for example, are a form of revenge for America’s political choices.

    These are then tied into Oscar himself, and by the end of his brief life we come to understand how Oscar’s entire family history, plus that of his nation, have determined his fate. This theme of fuku mixes well with the sense of Oscar’s doom a reader gets just from reading the novel’s title.

    “”Oscar Wao”” is a blend of cultures, characters, languages and moods, yet somehow they all blur together into a believable, thrilling tale that teaches the reader something about the world while never losing its power to entertain.

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