Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pretty wondrous

I've been meaning to post about Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for a while. This book was showered with praise and has been dubbed the best book of the year by a lot of Christmas shopping lists. I am happy to be able to chime in with the general chorus for once.

The book is a crazy, playful, violent, heartwrenching rummage in the lives of three generations in a Dominican(-American) family, taking place in the Dominican Republic and New Jersey, with the odd airplane scene. For New Jerseyans or Rutgers alums, it's a real treat -- go Perth Amboy, which is where my brother was born! For just about anyone, it's a real treat as well. Sit back, buckle your seatbelt, and prepare for the crazy.

Doesn't matter if you don't know Spanish, which is plentifully strewn throughout the novel. Doesn't matter if you can't get the Lord of the Rings references, either. The Dominican history, on the other hand, is provided by the narrator in unskippable, bitter, hilarious footnotes, most about the dictator Rafael Trujillo. The pastiche of language, cultural/historical references, and skipping back and forth in time, make this novel unforgettable, though the essential stories of the three generations are all well crafted too.

When talking it over with a friend, I dismissed the originality of it somewhat, saying it wasn't anything Joyce hadn't done, but she quite rightly pointed out that the updating of that form is entirely original. So is the messing about with language and form; it's like Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man meets Gloria Anzaldua. I admire the craftsmanship of the novel immensely, and definitely recommend it. It didn't quite give me a transcendent experience, but it gets close. I think I'd actually have liked more about the narrator, who is in some ways a tremendously sympathetic character, and the brilliant voice of the entire novel.

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