Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Published - September 6th 2007 by Riverhead Hardcover
Hardcover, 352 pages
Setting - Dominican Republic
Literary awards - Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2008); National Book Critics Circle Award (2008)
isbn - 1594489580 (isbn13: 9781594489587)
Narrated by an old college roommate named Junior, "Oscar Wao" is, among other things, the story of Oscar LaInca - an overweight, sci-fi reading, Dungeons and Dragons playing, "ghetto nerd," whose nickname is Spanglish for Oscar Wilde (meant as an insult, alluding to both Wilde's girth and sexuality). Although Dominican, Oscar completely defies the machismo stereotype, and given that he lives in the more-than-a-little-rough Paterson, NJ, Oscar spends most of his time in his bedroom where he can safely escape behind his Akira posters, Tolkien and role-playing games when he isn't in the midst of an obsessive and wholly one-sided love affair with some disinterested female.
As can be easily inferred from the title, Oscar's life is brief; yet, Junior must span two countries and three generations in order to tell the story of it. He begins by explaining that the LaInca family is said to have suffered from a powerful fuku (curse) earned when Oscar's grandfather angered Trujillo. Anticipating that most readers may have "missed your mandatory two seconds of Dominican history," Junior explains:
Trujillo, one of the twentieth century's most infamous dictators, ruled the Dominican Republic between 1930 and 1961 with an implacable ruthless brutality. A portly, sadistic, pig-eyed mulato who bleached his skin, wore platform shoes, and had a fondness for Napoleon-ear haberdashery, Trujillo (known as El Jefe, the Failed Cattle Thief, and Fuckface) came to control nearly every aspect of the DR's political, cultural, social, and economic life through a potent (and familiar) mixture of violence, intimidation, massacre, rape, co-optation, and terror...He was our Sauron, our Arawn, our Darkseid, our One and Future Dictator, a personaje so outlandish, so perverse, so dreadful that not even a sci-fi writer could have made his ass up.
The story of the Trujillo-era Dominican Republic becomes the backdrop for Díaz’s tale, which is equal parts coming-of-age novel, historical fiction, and epic family saga that seamlessly weaves hip-hop, feminism, mythology, science fiction and magical realism throughout.
And if I haven't made it clear enough by my rambling and overly long overview, I loved it. Admittedly, it took a little while for me to fully get into it, but was hooked come fifty pages in. I felt two sorts of sadness at the novel's conclusion: one for the sweet, brave, pathetic Oscar, and the other because I simply didn't want it to be over.
- Check out the Nov. 1, 2008 Chicago Tribune. It was mentioned as one of the 12 books the next President should read.