Monday, January 28, 2008

RTW in books: Oscar Wao in the Dominican Republic

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Some of you know I've been griping about not traveling so much now that I've moved back to Perth from Europe. I'm trying to get over that by traveling Round The World (RTW) in books, so you'll be seeing more in this series of posts soon. To kick it off, I've just read a novel set in a place I've never been but now want to (what's new?!), the Dominican Republic.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is written by Junot Díaz who gets described by one of my favourite writers, Hanif Kureishi, as "a strong, fresh, authentic talent". I'm not yet convinced, but from a traveller's point of view, this novel tells you quite a lot about the Dominican Republic. Perhaps being more involved in Australasian and European spheres means I've missed out knowing much about the Caribbean, but that doesn't mean I'm not interested.

The story follows three generations of the family, with Oscar Wao being the third generation who spends much of his life in the United States. A significant part of the novel is set in the time of military dictator Trujillo, an interesting historical setting for me. The novel jumps around a little between generations, sometimes confusing me if I left it for too long between reads, but the ending made it worthwhile.

But I have one big gripe: Díaz loves footnotes. Especially early on in the book, when the historical background is most important, Díaz constantly sends the reader off to the bottom of the page hunting tiny numbers and minuscule text. As a reader of a novel - this is not an academic thesis or anything, remember - I expect the writer to decide what's important and what's not, and either include it in the novel or leave it out. Is that too much to ask?

Despite the footnotes, the Dominican Republic is now another spot on my want-to-travel-to list. And what a long list that is.

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