I bought this book when it first was published and getting all kinds of buzz. But you know how it is, you don't quite get around to it. Eventually my friend Girl Detective asked to borrow it, and as I knew I wouldn't read it for a while, I loaned it to her. While she was reading it, author Junot Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize. When she returned it, she'd carefully slipped it into a protective plastic cover, noting that it was a first edition and might someday be valuable.
Well, for heaven's sake, now what was I supposed to do? I read books in the bathtub. I read books while eating toast and jam, or burgers with ketchup and mustard, or sipping red wine, and I am a notoriously sloppy eater. I leave books on the floor where the dogs walk over them and kids kick them and sometimes they get bumped against the dog bowl and sloshed on. Obviously, there was nothing for it, but that I must not read this book for its own safety.**
Then the Reading Wolves announced they would read it for their June selection, and I thought, huh, maybe? Maybe I could do that? Take it out of its plastic protection, be brave, and read?
And so I did. With great trepidation. I won't drag out the suspense--the book is finished and going back into its plastic sleeve (thanks, Girl Detective!) in pretty respectable shape. Except for what looks like a partial footprint on the lower front cover...
I really liked this book, although I suspect, not being a Tolkien fan or able to speak/read Spanish, that there's plenty of subtext that zoomed right over my head. Diaz uses copious amounts of Spanish mixed into the English, and I'm guessing he's using a great deal of slang and/or profanity, and initially that slowed me down. At first I tried to look up online any words I didn't know. But I quickly realized that if I did that, I'd have a better chance of finishing War and Peace this year than finishing this book. So I had to go with the idea that I could probably guess at meaning from context, and the reading went much more quickly after that.
Except for the footnotes. In a way, the footnotes were often interesting, explaining points of Dominican history that I was clueless about, and often in such a breezy, tossed-off manner that it brought me into Oscar's world, where this stuff is common knowledge. But: footnotes? Really? They become coy after a while, tricksy, and just downright annoying.
Early on we learn that Oscar is a grossly overweight nerd who has very few "friends":
"And right there he learned something about his friends he'd never known (or at least never admitted to himself). Right there had had an epiphany that echoed through his fat self. He realized his fucked-up comic-book-reading, role-playing-game-loving, no-sports-playing friends were embarrassed by him."
As if that's not bad enough, Oscar isn't just an ungainly nerd, but apparently a victim of fuku, an ancient curse that's been tormenting his family for decades. And just like that, Diaz is off and running, showing the family members before Oscar who have been battered by fuku (much of which takes place in the Dominican Republic during the Trujillo years, a time of much violence), and this becomes telling of how Oscar ended up the way he did.
Af first the title didn't make sense to me, since the book is only partially about Oscar. But, at least in Oscar's mind, his brief wondrous life is wholly a battle against this fuku, generated long before his birth in a time and place as cursed as any.
A tough read in some ways, especially given my lack of foreign language knowledge, but I'm glad I finally took it off the shelf and exposed it to the real world.
**That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. And by the way, footnotes are not annoying when I use them.