The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, By Junot Díaz

Lesley McDowell
Sunday 01 March 2009 01:00
Comments

With this startling, breathless, sweetly harsh debut novel, Junot Díaz, a justifiable Pulitzer Prize winner, has managed to portray both the particularity of the inner life of a Dominican teenage boy in contemporary New Jersey, as well as draw universal conclusions about men and women, race and class.

We first meet Oscar when he is a plump little boy, loved by the girls to such an extent that they fight over him. Fast forward to his adolescence, and girls are fighting to get away from him. Oscar's isolation is compounded by his innate geekiness, his love of genre fiction, his dragon of a mother and his counter-culture sister. His mother might fit the stereotype of the fierce Latin-American mother who brings up her kids alone and works her fingers to the bone in underpaid, menial jobs to do it, but everything else about Oscar's story eschews easy assumptions.

Díaz's portrait of a society that marries sex and violence with frightening casualness is funny as well as disturbing. Oscar's sister almost expects boyfriends to treat her badly; one brief childhood girlfriend of Oscar's, Maritza, "was a girl who seemed to delight in getting slapped around by her boyfriends", while his mother acquired boyfriends as a young woman only when her breasts became huge. The machismo of second-generation Dominican-American culture is an endless source of anguish to the young Oscar, and you know that his life is going to be brief because he's too gentle for it.

In that respect, Díaz's is a routine coming-of-age story, wherein the hero is always the misunderstood outsider. But that's where familiarity with the form ends. Díaz invests it with new power, with a political consciousness and with the cultural perspective of a previously ignored ethnic group.

Click here to purchase this book

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in