Junot Díaz’s The brief wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Faber and Faber, 2008) is an absolutely intriguing work of art. Maybe your first ever novel with footnotes, written in an exquisitely sassy Spanglish and so full of allusions that it made me wonder whether it is actually translatable. (There are, as far as I could see, at least 13 translations, among them Portuguese, German, Turkish, Japanese, Czech and Croatian, so yeah, apparently it is.) It’s a nonchalant ride not only through the “brief wondrous” life of Oscar, The Nerd™, but also an introductory course to the history of the Dominican Republic during the 20th century, and easily the densest book I’ve read (at least) this year.
Now I am sure that had I read some more sci-fi novels (or comics, or anything considered part of that genre), I would most likely have understood more of the references to superheroes, villains, and plot lines with which the novel is splattered. There’s also some obvious salutations to magical realism. For reasons (The Nerd™), the only thing this book lacks is a real (meaning: successful) romance, but also there really is neither time nor space for it given all the other things that have to be told about Dominican history, the family curse, and life in the diaspora.
How did I come across the book?
I don’t really remember, even though I do remember having heard of it. I do remember, however, that the story didn’t strike me as particularly interesting, and not even having read This is how you lose her last year convinced me. So what did? Maybe the Pulitzer, the fact that I have a thing for Caribbean authors, and that I got the used copy for peanuts, really.
When and where did I read it?
During the first two weeks of fieldwork. Definitely helped with the re-entry, even though I was often tempted to simply keep reading instead of going outside.