Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel centers on Oscar, an overweight nerd who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien.
Within the first five pages, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” references “The Lord of the Rings”, “Star Trek” and “DC Comics”. Such references enable Diaz’s novel to capture the attention of nerds and Dominicans alike, although it also caters to those who have ever dealt with low self-esteem issues, weight problems and thought their family arose from the depths of hell.
According to the narrator, Oscar “wore his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his lightsaber or a Lensman her lens.” That’s Star Wars and the “Lensman” series by E.E. Smith, in case you didn’t know.
Initially the narrator, whose asides range from the television show “Land of the Lost” to rapper Jay-Z, tells Oscar’s story and then later moves on to account the lives of Oscar’s sister, Lola, a rebellious goth-track star, and their mother, Beli, the original rebel in the family.
Oscar’s and Lola’s college experiences in the U.S. decorate the second half of the book, but essentially the book is written as a biography of a cursed family. Although Oscar and his sister grow up in New Jersey, their family still feels the echo of their Dominican homeland. Each of these stories finds a way of making you burst out laughing before creating sudden emotional shifts, juxtaposing the narrator’s humorous observations with the character’s mortality.
Throughout the novel the reader learns who the big science fiction authors of the 1950s were and how violent the Dominican Republic became under the reign of Rafael Trujillo.
“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” compiles their stories into a crude and sentimental bilingual narrative, complete with pop culture references and history lessons via footnotes. Read it for the laughs and for the quirky storytelling.
On the other hand, read it to remind yourself that life may not be perfect. In fact, sometimes your life makes Peter Parker’s circumstances before Spider-Man look great. It’s enough to be alive.