Oscar de León represented his native Dominican Republic well and was a hit with the ladies…up until he hit elementary school. Then his heart was broken and his life spiraled downward. He went from being a player to becoming an overweight nerd. He had a good and kind heart but the poor kid had zero game. He was the ultimate nerd–before being a nerd was a good thing.
Diaz’ novel centers around our lonely Oscar as we watch him grow up from childhood through adulthood, fighting off his demons of depression, low self esteem, and endless bouts of unrequited love. The story is narrated by his best friend, Yunior, a boy who reluctantly fell into that role after falling for Oscar’s sister, Lola.
We are taken back through the generations of ancestors to discover the cause of Oscar’s bad fortune. Although it is only whispered about, the belief is that his family was cursed with the fukú, which has doomed them to all kinds of bad luck. It may just be bad luck in life, but when learning about all the misfortunes in life and love of his forebears, it would make you wonder, especially if you come from such a superstitious culture.
Although this book won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, it didn’t totally grab me like it did those who sing its praises. However, I did appreciate the ability of the author to go back and forth seamlessly between English and Spanish. I can pick up words and phrases here and there, but I’m not fluent in Spanish, yet I was still able to understand what was being said and not fall out of the story. To me, that’s due to the skill of the author.
There are numerous references to nerd culture which was fun. I found myself stopping and sharing bits of the book with my son: shout-outs to the “Watchmen” graphic novel, Dungeons & Dragons, certain verbiage used by Oscar such as the frequent use of “genre”. We got a chuckle out of it because my son can relate. Thankfully, nerdiness is now appreciated. lol
I also enjoyed being submersed in the culture of life in the DR and learning about the politics of the Trujillo regime, including the ordered execution of the Mirabal Sisters (“The Butterflies”) who were fervently opposed to the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. As far as the “wondrous” part of Oscar’s life, I think I was expecting more from his personal story. The stories of his ancestors was actually what was interesting in my opinion.
I’m likely just an idiota, especially considering this book was on David Bowie’s Top 100 Favorite Books list, but I’m walking away from this one thinking, “meh”. The audio narration was excellent, however.