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Oscar Wao is a loser. There’s really no kind way to put it. But it might not be entirely his fault. His family is from the Dominican Republic, where the evil dictator Trujillo held sway for an unbelievable amount of time. Oscar’s family fell into Trujillo’s bad graces way back in the day and they haven’t really been happy since. Everyone believes Trujillo laid a fukú, or curse, on the family forever.
Everybody knows at least one Oscar. You know the type. The geek/nerd who loves all things sci-fi/fantasy. The one who’s desperate to fit in. The one who doesn’t understand why he doesn’t fit in. The one who breaks your heart as you watch him trying to fit in by doing all those things that keep him from fitting in in the first place. Yeah, you know exactly who I’m talking about. How many faces just flashed through your mind? Oscar was a heart-breaker when he was seven but he lost his mojo. Now he breaks the reader’s heart. I wanted so badly for just one thing to go Oscar’s way. Everybody deserves a break, right? Well, this is the real world, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. But Oscar does learn some things on his brief, wondrous journey, and while I might not applaud his choices, I can understand them.
The story was a little hard to get through. We dip into Oscar’s life, his sister’s life, his mother’s life, and his grandfather’s life. The parts in the Dominican Republic under Trujillo were pretty brutal, but necessary to understand where this family was coming from.
The narrator is Oscar’s college roommate. He’s a fast-talking, wise-cracking, womanizing smartass. I loved him. It read like he was telling me the story instead of having me read it. He’s funny, he’s hard on Oscar, he loves Oscar, he has some regrets, and he’s grown up a lot. His narrative style isn’t for everyone though. He writes in what I can only call Spanglish, which implies more Spanish than there was. There were maybe three or four Spanish words on every page. I understood about half of them, but that was enough for me to know that I was really only missing out on slang, nothing important to the story. Still, that might not be for everyone, so steer clear if you don’t think it’s for you.
Overall, this wasn’t a book that rocked my world. But I really do love this narrator’s voice and have nothing but respect for the author who pulled it off.
Reviewed February 26, 2009
Read my Character Connection post about Yunior de las Casas from this book.