Reading this book was like journeying through every book I ever loved at the same time. Intense doesn’t seem a strong enough adjective! This book is wild and witty and wonderfully woeful…. It presents a perfect balance of pure and unassuming innocence with lascivious experience which is manifested linguistically and through imagery. The book navigates its way through the bastardisation of English and the devastating destruction of human purity. Junot Diaz has accomplished a truly marvellous feat in this award winning debut novel.
Meet Oscar Wao: ”Oscar de León was not one of those Dominican cats everybody’s always going on about. He wasn’t no player. Except for one time, he’d never had much luck with women.”
Oscar is the most diverse character I think I have ever encountered. He is Salman Rushdie meets Dostoevsky, he is complex, depressed yet colourful, a deep hue of Latin American culture blended with American Geek Sci-Fi brittleness. Oscar’s life is part reality and part mythology. It is as though he is born out of a dream and so doesn’t belong in any world or anywhere. He is constantly trying to find himself, to fulfil himself, to bring meaning into his life and into the world at large.
Oscar’s life is filled with vibrant people: his long lost sister, Lola, his friend and sometimes room mate and sometimes boyfriend to his sister, Yunior, his larger than life mother and his abuela (grandmother) in the Dominican Republic. These characters make up the core of his world. And, it is through the voices of these individuals that we come to know Oscar. Their perspectives colour our view of him and it is through their sorrow that we come to understand Oscar’s existence. In part, Diaz’s technique of switching between narrative voices allows him to narrate some painful experiences without attaching too much emotion to them.
But, more significantly, perhaps, Oscar is intellectually superior to those around him. He is in love with words and he is left with the enormous challenge of navigating his Spanglish home, Latin American heritage while not betraying his commitment to language. Oscar has visions of writing a grand opus of a novel, an epic series. The tragic irony of this story is that Oscar’s writing never arrives – literally and figuratively.