Book Look - The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz

This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Having said that, have to admit: this is both a fabulous and wrenchingly difficult read. Others have addressed the plot, so thought I'd go straight to what makes this book so complex, and so worthwhile.

What makes the book amazing: Diaz's totally unique first person narration (the story is related by the Dominican "player" boyfriend of Oscar's sister Lola), combining Dominican history, ethnic references, Jersey street slang, vulgarity, scifi/fantasy nerd references, honesty, humility and compassion to create a narrative voice unlike anything I've ever encountered in fiction. In a world full of quality literature, Junot Diaz deserves major props for creating something completely new and utterly compelling.

Unfortunately, this is also what makes the story's plot so wrenching to endure. If the characters weren't so unbearably real, so deeply sympathetic, then perhaps it wouldn't hurt so much to watch them line up, one after the other (first Dr. Abelard Luis Cabral, then his daughter Beli, then her son Oscar....), hell-bent on risking everything for love, only to endure heartbreaking loss and increasingly horrific consequences.

The central question of the novel seems to be: how is one's destiny determined? Is it determined by supernatural forces: fate, God, fuku (the Dominican equivalent of a curse)? Or can you shape fate by your own actions? Or - a terrifying but inescapable possibility - is one's destiny a complete crapshoot? I won't give away the ending, except to provide a little reassurance for prospective readers, for what it's worth: surely an author with as much compassion for his characters as Junot Diaz would never posit a world entirely bereft of hope.

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