Book Reviews


Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz made a huge debut 10 years ago with a collection of stories called "Drown." And next week, his first novel appears - "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao."

Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE: Here's a book whose imaginative energy, linguistic volatility, historical passion, and all-around love of life, make it one of the best first novels of recent decades. "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" becomes a love song to our country and a Dominican-born-New-Jersey-American's homage to his Latin roots.

It's a profane and sacred, light and dark, filthy throated, and bittersweet treats on life, as we need to know it. The Oscar of the title is Oscar de Leon, an overweight kid from a Dominican neighborhood in Paterson, New Jersey, who's madly in love with reading and later writing, mostly fantasy and science fiction.

But the only love Oscar gets back comes from his sister, Lola, and a few pals, and his mother, the beautiful, dark-complected, Belizia, though she has odd ways of showing her love for her children.

As he grows older and heavier, Oscar keeps trying to find a girl without success. His pathetic quest for love told mainly in a spicy-jivey voice of his sister's on-again-off-again college boyfriend takes on mythic proportions. The story carries us back and forth from the streets of Paterson to the Dominican Republic in the days of its monstrous dictator Trujillo - all of these under the cloud of the terrible fuku, or curse, that our narrator portrays as the downfall of all Dominicans.

Junot Diaz himself, given a decade and more it's taken to produce this novel, may have suffered from a little bit of fuku himself. Those days, as this wondrous novel demonstrates, are over.

SIEGEL: The novel is "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz.

Our reviewer Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. And his latest work of fiction out this week is called "The Fires."

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