Friday, April 10, 2009

Review: The inextinguishable longing for elsewheres…

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This is my first crack at blogging and I haven’t reviewed a book since the sixth grade… be gentle, blogsphere! And thanks to Kari for giving me something to do at work.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the recent Pulitzer Prize winner by Junot Diaz, is as much a lesson in Dominican history as it is a fictional story. Oscar is a massively overweight, sci-fi obsessed logophile who has committed so many acts of social suicide that he’ll never recover. The novel jumps back and forth through time and place, connecting the lives of Oscar, his mother, sister, and grandparents in the Dominican Republic and New Jersey, all of which are defined by violence, lust, and “the inextinguishable longing for elsewheres.” These scenes are juxtaposed with opinionated footnotes, providing a more in depth (and at times questionably veracious) description of the superstitious legends and savage politicians of Dominica.

Oscar is concerned about two things – writing science fiction novels and getting girls. Although there were a few girls over the years who befriended him, Oscar makes it to his twenty-third birthday without as much as a kiss. He suffers through his cokehead uncle’s taunts that Dominican men never have trouble getting “coño” and his college roommate’s declaration that no Dominican man ever died a virgin. Despite these insults, Oscar’s desire for women is indefatigable and carries him to the Dominican Republic, where like his ailing mother and spirited sister, he is chewed up and spit out by the volatile country.

Being a native Jerseyan, I loved all the references to life in there and the constant desire to move onto bigger and better things. The characters in The Brief and Wondrous Life possess differing attitudes and desires, however they all share the same struggle to take control of their lives, and sex often becomes the tool they use for the fight. This novel is a story about the inevitable failures and imperfections we face, not about successes. Yet, when Oscar had but the slightest victory, it permeated through the pages enough to carry me through the most violent scenes. As a huge fan of damaged love stories and thorny family histories, I flew through this book. I would definitely recommend it!

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