This novel tells the story of Oscar De Leon (I’ll let you read the novel to learn how he gets the nickname Wao), a Dominican-American growing up in 1980’s New Jersey. He’s no ordinary boy as he’s overweight, enamored with science fiction and role-playing games, and a talented writer determined to become the “Dominican Tolkien.” The references comic books and gaming terms are about the same level of confusing as the colloquial Spanish sprinkled through the book. He’s also terminally lovelorn, unable to find a girl who will return his affection and devotion.
Despite such a compelling title character, much of this novel is about his family with sections devoted to his attractive and popular sister, Oscar and Lola’s mother Belicia who was also tragically naive in matters of love, and Belicia’s father Abelard a successful doctor who meets a grizzly fate. The overarching theme of the book is the fuku – or curse – that lies upon the De Leon family, and the menacing, omnipresence of Trujillo, the dictator whose cruel reign bloodied the Dominican Republic from 1930-1961. The novel is full of lengthy footnotes about the Trujillo Era that are almost as compelling as the main text
Much of the novel is narrated by Yunior, Oscar’s college roommate, who attempts to befriend Oscar out of love for Lola but comes to respect Oscar for himself. Other portions are narrated by Lola and perhaps a third-person narrator. I think I would have liked the book even better if Oscar played more of a role in the story and the reader could hear his voice more directly. The structure of the novel does work well though, unfolding different portions of the De Leon family curse in a non-linear form.
Recommended books: The Lost Legends of New Jersey by Frederick Reiken, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon