Ghetto Nerd Rising: Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Read this book and you'll quickly realize: Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is more than a novel. It is an oral tradition, an epic mythology.
Oscar de Leon is an overweight ghetto nerd, growing up in urban New Jersey. Constantly taunted about his weight, his love of sci-fi, and his writing, he's a walking joke. Especially with girls. Barring early childhood success, Oscar has never even had a girlfriend, a fact that questions not only his manhood, but also his "Dominican-ness." So we follow him as he searches for love -- guided by our scribe, the keeper of Oscar's tale, Yunior -- through Oscar's high school years, college years, and young adulthood, from the United States to the Dominican Republic, flanked by his mother and tough-yet-supportive sister, Lola. You see, it's their story too.
In fact, it's the entire family's story, going back to the island and Oscar's great-grandparents (the respected doctor and nurse), going back to the era of Trujillo, the DR's murderous dictator, and the ancient curse he's said to have served, or had serve him: the fukú. The fukú has haunted Oscar's family for generations -- ever since his great-grandfather was arrested over a joke -- and torments them still today.
In the end, though, we return to our hero, Oscar de Leon, the ghetto nerd himself, as he tries to simultaneously live up to (as a Dominican man) and get away from (as a member of a cursed family) his genetic inheritance to love.
Junot Diaz, through Yunior, writes in a fresh urban-literary voice. It's a voice both foreign and familiar, warm and humorous, even while providing info-packed encyclopedic footnotes. It's this kind of contradiction, this balancing act, which makes The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao incredibly readable and enjoyable yet brimming with honesty and emotion; which makes it ancient mythos yet entirely modern, sweeping yet intimate; which makes it, for Yunior and all the characters, both fukú and zafa (the fukú redress).
The long-awaited follow-up to Drown (Diaz's short story collection), The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was published to critical acclaim. It won numerous awards, including both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and quickly jumped onto reading lists everywhere. His new book, This is How You Lose Her, is due out in September.