Books I Loved: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Pulitzer Prize)

Junot Diaz recently received this year’s Pulitzer for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  The book will also be made into a movie by Miramax.  The tale is a sweeping multi-generational epic replete with quirky character driven humor and family tragedy on a monumental scale. We are taken back and forth in time and place, from the tumultous and violent past of the Dominican Republic, reigned by dictator of terror Trujillo, to a New Jersey Plymouth Rock where Oscar’s family has landed.

A fuku (curse) haunts the family after its patriarch, a doctor, decides to not grant the dictator’s lascivious wish- meeting the man’s underage daughter.  The doctor’s naive belief that, as a man of means, he will not suffer at the hands of Trujillo, proves deadly wrong. The author’s casual writing style, supported by historical and humorous footnotes, craftily and comfortably reels the reader into this literary juggernaut of a novel.

I first heard about the book when The Colbert Report featured Diaz on the show.  Colbert, being his usual “hard hitting reporter” self, wanted to know if the “disastrously overweight ghetto nerd” in the story was anything like him.  DIaz’s abaility to reference Triphids, Dungeons and Dragons, Tolkien, and Star Wars with a science fiction lover’s alacrity, had the mark of a diehard fan.  But the book is obviously more than great pop references.  It reminds me in many ways of The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, another Pulitzer winner.  Both authors have the ability to take you into another world, with one foot on United States soil and one in the homeland, while leaving you with a sense that you truly know these characters.

Love and sex, power and violence, belonging and acceptance are dual themes interwoven into this story of people searching for their identity and self-worth in places where the rules have been established for them.  The fuku becomes each character’s personal struggle with a choice- fighting and dying for what you love and believe in, or accepting what “is” with great personal loss to your soul. 

The characters are vividly and honestly brought to life in this book- one can only reflect on the fukus each of us believe we have in our own life.  Do we cling to the past and blame God for our misfortune, cursing the world for what it has made us, or do we take life as it is and thank God for giving us the tools, an internal compass and a pat of self worth, to find our own love and happiness?  And as Americans, do we believe that the American dream is something every human deserves, or has that just become a rhetoric we propogate?


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One Response to “Books I Loved: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Pulitzer Prize)”

  1. Z. Hinckley Says:

    I enjoyed the review. I hope you’ll review more books. I’ll probably not read them, but I’ll read the reviews–and after that, who knows?

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