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Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Wow.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked up Junot Díaz's book -- a novel that mixed Latino culture with nerd culture (something I can relate to -- if this song were called "Latina and Nerdy" it'd be about me), a post-modern book filled with arch references to literature and pop culture and lots of footnotes, certainly a well-written work of art (it won the Pulitzer). I didn't expect that I would devour the book in a matter of days, sitting on the commuter train and wishing it hadn't arrived at my stop so quickly. The mix of cultures and time periods and allusions was intoxicating. The book shifts between Oscar's and his sister Lola's lives as immigrants growing up in 80s-90s New Jersey, struggling to overcome family history and everyday indignities, and scenes set in the Dominican Republic in the 50s and 60s, detailing the horrors their family endured during the Trujillo dictatorship. The subject matter was sometimes harrowing, but there was a great deal of humor, too.

The most startling thing, though, was the language. Díaz uses a mix of Spanish and English, slang and ten-dollar words, complex sentences and fragmented phrases. The result captures your attention from the first page, and pulls you along faster and faster -- but never so fast you miss the images, the plot, the beauty of what he has created. This is a carefully crafted, exhilarating book, and I can't think of a single flaw.

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