Monday, April 13, 2009

The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao

I finished this novel of Junot Diaz's last night. Though when I say finished, I should admit that I didn't read most of the footnotes. The proportion of footnote to body text was so high that some pages were just footnotes - with a couple of sentences of body text added on for visual texture**.

There were a couple of other things about this book that I found a little annoying. One was the heavy-handed use of Lord of the Rings references, though I can see why it's there - it's because Oscar is a total geek and LOTR fan. The other thing was his liberal use of Spanish words, with no accompanying glossary at the back. True, I could get the gist of the meaning from the context. But I've no doubt that the subtler meanings were quite lost to me.

The good thing about this book is that it's a compelling story about a group of flawed characters whom I couldn't help but feel empathy with - Oscar, the overweight and constantly lovelorn geek; Lola, his Amazonian sister; Beli, their bitter and disappointed mother; and La Inca, Beli's adoptive mother. Basically, it's about a Dominican family enduring three generations of horrible luck, beginning during the terrifying reign of the dictator Trujillo. There is no happy ending as such, but it's not utterly depressing - just very sad.

The chapter that really grabbed me was the one about Lola, her desperate need to get away from home and the destructive influence of her mother, and her inability to sever the emotional tie. After that I was sucked in until the last page.

**Footnote about the footnotes: it's from Diaz's footnotes that you learn about the political environment that is the setting for this novel. They are a pretty unhappy read.

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