Monday, May 19, 2008

The Best Novel Of 2007

"Want to know what an X-Man feels like? Just try being a smart, bookish boy of color in the contemporary US ghetto."
-The Brief And Wonderous Life Of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

One of those miraculous reads that just clicks, and one of my favorite novels as soon as I finished reading it. Diaz combines cultures and languages the way only those in cross ethnic, cultural, and national lines can. Those who can't speak Spanish might not understand certain portions and passages of the book, just as those not well versed in all manner of 20th century nerdom (comics, movies, anime, tv shows, sci-fi novels, card games, etc), might be just as lost in the endless wave of pop culture references. If that's not enough Diaz captures modern slang vernacular just as expertly as all the other dialects floating through this book, which is at once a modern tale about genre obsessed and alienated youth, one families struggles through curses, totalitarian regimes, and history repeating itself, as well as a general history of the modern Dominican Republic. It sounds like a mouthful and it is, but it is also a humane, funny, perfectly structured and manged, amazing read, that's as good on a literary level as it is a pure delight to read. Best book of the decade as far as I'm concerned, hands down.

(Junot Diaz)


  • "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.
And except for one period early in his life, dude never had much luck with the females (how very un-Dominican of him).

He was seven then.

In those blessed days of his youth, Oscar was something of a Casanova. One of those preschool loverboys who was always trying to kiss the girls, always coming up behind them during a merengue and giving them the pelvic pump, the first nigger to learn the perrito and the one who danced it any chance he got. Because in those days he was (still) a "normal" Dominican boy raised in a "typical" Dominican family, his nascent pimp-liness was encouraged by blood and friends alike. During parties - and there were many parties in those long-ago seventies days, before Washington Heights was Washington Heights, before the Bergenline became a straight shot of Spanish for almost a hundred blocks - some drunk relative inevitably pushed Oscar onto some little girl and then everyone would howl as boy and girl approximated the hip-motism of the adults."

  • "Homeboy dominated Santo Domingo like it was his own private Mordor; not only did he lock the country away from the rest of the world, isolate it behind behind the plátano curtain, he acted like it was his very own plantation, acted like he owned everything and everyone, killed whomever he wanted to kill, sons, brothers, fathers, mothers, took women away from their husbands on their wedding nights and then would brag publicly about “the great honeymoon” he’d had the night before. His Eye was everywhere; he had a secret police that out-Stasi’ed the Stas..."

  • "What had hurt, however, was when Maritza dumped [Oscar]. Monday after he’d fed Olga to the dogs he arrived at the bus stop with his beloved Planet of the Apes lunch box only to discover beautiful Maritza holding hands with butt-ugly Nelson Pardo. Nelson Pardo who looked like Chaka from Land of the Lost! Nelson Pardo who was so stupid he thought the moon was a stain that God had forgotten to clean. (He’ll get to it soon, he assured his whole class.) Nelson Pardo who would become the neighborhood B&E expert before joining the Marines and losing eight toes in the First Gulf War. At first Oscar thought it a mistake; the sun was in his eyes, he’d not slept enough the night before. He stood next to them and admired his lunch box, how realistic and diabolical Dr. Zaius looked. But Maritza wouldn’t even smile at him! Pretended he wasn’t there. We should get married, she said to Nelson, and Nelson grinned moronically, turning up the street to look for the bus. Oscar had been too hurt to speak; he sat down on the curb and felt something overwhelming surge up from his chest, scared the shit out of him, and before he knew it he was crying; when his sister, Lola, walked over and asked him what was the matter he’d shaken his head. Look at the mariconcito, somebody snickered. Somebody else kicked his beloved lunch box and scratched it right across General Urko’s face. When he got on the bus, still crying, the driver, a famously reformed PCP addict, had said, Christ, don’t be a fucking baby."

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