“A work of startling originality and distinction, narrated with an irresistible, manic energy” – Observer
“Celebratory and heartbreaking…It is technically breathtaking, undeniably funny, and filled with something many novels lack: an enormous amount of love, and heart” – Time Out
“Both a big picture window that opens out on the sorrows of Dominican history, and a small, intimate window that reveals one familiy’s life and loves” – New York Times
Above are just some of the stunning reviews that Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has racked up since it was first published in 2008. It is loved by readers and critics alike, and was named the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction that same year. So what might strike you as most surprising was that I found the novel completely by chance, browsing the shelves of my favourite bookshop.
So what’s it all about? The novel wanders in and out of the Dominican Republic’s recent turbulent history and follows the fuku Americanus (“a curse or doom of some kind”) that pursues the Wao family. As the title suggests, Oscar is our struggling protagonist – an atypical Dominican male who adores Tolkien and falls in love at the drop of a hat. He grows up in New Jersey but life is not so easy and no matter how hard he tries to ditch the “fuku”, he never quite manages to escape its clutches.
It is difficult to convey just how remarkable and beautiful The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is. Everything about the novel is accomplished – it’s all too easy to get caught up in the narrative, a fascinating mixture of Spanish and English (non-Spanish speakers fear not, I don’t speak a word and yet the meaning was clear). The novel is at once endearing and unbearably heartbreaking, energetic yet permeated by a sense of impending disaster yet to be fully realised by Oscar and his family until the end.
If I haven’t convinced you yet that Diaz’s debut novel is worth its weight in gold, then I dare you to read the opening lines and tell me you have no interest in reading further – it’s quite possibly the most compelling opener I have ever read…
“Domingo might be fuku’s Kilometer Zero, its port of entry, but we are all of us its children, whether we know it or not.
But the fuku ain’t just ancient history, a ghost story from the past with no power to scare. In my parents’ day the fuku was real as shit, something your everyday person could believe in. Everybody knew someone who’d been eaten by a fuku, just like everybody knew somebody who worked up in the Palacio. It was in the air, you could say, though, like all the most important things on the Island, not something folks really talked about. But in those elder days, fuku had it goo; it even had a hypeman of sorts, a high priest, you could say. Our then dictator-for-life Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Mohna”.
How anyone could dislike this book is beyond me!