Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life

Recently --- last Tuesday to be precise --- a friend recommended that I read a book by Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. So I picked it up from Amazon for under ten bucks for my Kindle and started reading it. I've read about twenty-five percent of it so far. The novel is set in New Jersey with many allusions to the Dominican Republic.

The protagonist is a Dominican boy, Oscar Wao, who is overweight and has various obsessions, including reading science fiction and fantasy novels and comic books, playing games that feature role-playing, and finding a girl to love him. Oscar is also somewhat consumed with the curse of the fuku, a curse on his family and the Caribbean since colonization and slavery.

Because first lines are so important, I quote from the book. This is the way it begins:


GhettoNerd at the End of the World



Our hero was not one of those Dominican cats everybody's always going on about --- he wasn't no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy with a million hots on his jock.

Since I'm not as immersed in the growing-up world of the things that interest and attract Oscar, in reading this book, perhaps, I am at some disadvantage. For example, I didn't know what "fly bachatero" meant or alluded to. I didn't know that bachata is a genre of music originating in the countryside and rural neighborhoods of the Dominican Republic featuring tales of heartbreak and sadness. I have to look up words unfamiliar to me. Some of them are not in the dictionary or in Wikipedia. In the very first paragraph, for example, it referred to merengue, a Caribbean style of dance music. And perrito, which I assume is also some sort of dance from the Caribbean, but didn't find a definition. Who is Porfirio Rubirosa? Oh, he's a Dominican diplomat and polo player and racecar driver. Well, sometimes in the text, a person can decipher from context and what's said the meaning. But that's not always the case.

Anyway, I'm reading the book and the author is very talented. Talent isn't always enough though.

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