The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

***Potential Spoilers***

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, what can I say but that it was great.  Just a damn good read.  The novel does what the title implies, describes the brief life of Oscar de Leon, nicknamed Wao.  As the story of Oscar and his Dominican heritage unfolds, we learn that the de Leon family history is influenced not only by the history of the Dominican Rublic during Trujillo's reign, as told through the sprinkling of historical footnotes, but also by fuku, a curse that has caused misery to the family for generations.  The novel moves smoothly back and forth between Oscar's life and those of his mother and grandfather's fuku immersed tragic tales, culminating in the end of Oscar's days and the lifting of the curse.

Man, Mr. Diaz knows how to effectively curse (pun intended!).  His use of language brings the narrator to life, makes you feel like he's talking just to you.  I also loved how the narrator wasn't introduced until about halfway through the novel.  I was a little frustrated by this at first but it all made sense when I was finally introduced to Yunior.  I thought this was incredibly clever and can really see why this book won the Pulitzer.  Although he narrates the whole tale, it is not until Yunior is introduced as a character, when he meets Oscar, that it becomes apparent that he is also our storyteller.  Finally meeting Yunior, a typically passionate Dominican dude, I understand what all the swearing is about (and geez, do I ever love some good cussing).

Just like our protagonist Oscar, I am an avid fantasy and science fiction reader and I loved, I mean LOVED, how Diaz used this genre of literature for all his comparisons.  Like comparing Trujillo to Sauron!  I mean, when times are tough in fantasy novels, they are BAD.  It is pretty scary to realize that Tolkein and his fantasy and SF colleagues are never really far off the mark when creating their bad guys and evil empires.  They do indeed, rather unfortunately, mimic the atrocities of the real world.  And, in fact, Diaz makes a pretty good case when comparing the DR under the "Failed Cattle Theif" to Sauron's Mordor.  It really pushed home the verity of the horrors committed by Trujillo and his henchmen.

And Oscar, poor nerdy, socialy and physically awkward, Sci Fi reading, Dungeons and Dragons playing, never been kissed, Oscar.  You really feel for the guy.  Who would have thought that such an awkward bookish guy would eventually have the courage and strength to free his family from its fuku legacy.  I was rooting for Oscar the whole way.  Willing the girls he fell in love with (rather whole heartedly and extremely all encompassingly) to love him back.  Knowing Oscar comes to an unfortunatly end,  I just wanted the guy to get laid before he met his maker.  What a guy, that's all I can say.

Though a little dark, an amazing story about surviving and making it in this world, and about the ability to change your fate.  Well worth a read.


Zoo City - Lauren Beukes

Well, for a novel that has been awarded the 2011 Arthur C Clark Award and was shortlisted for the 2011 World Fantasy Award, I was sadly disappointed.

The premise for this novel is very unique and I was excited to get my hands on a copy. The novel follows protagonist, Zinzi December, ex-journalist, recovering drug addict, murderer and animalled criminal.  Permanently accompanied by Sloth, Zinzi uses the 'talent' bestowed on her as one of the animalled to find lost things in order to pay off a drug debt owed from what she calls her "Former Life."  After being accused of the murder of one of her clients, Zinzi accepts a job and begins a week long investigation into finding a lost pop starlet, only to get in way over her head.

This novel had real potential.  I can understand some of the praise being heaped on Zoo City, but for me it was only a good idea and a well executed novel, but not a great story.  I kept feeling that I was just skimming the surface but that I was never able to penetrate into the heart of the novel.  It didn't stike a cord.  It didn't leave me thinking.  I was left at the end wanting more.  Maybe I will venture a try at her first novel, Moxyland.   Here's hoping it's more enjoyable.

New Irving in May!

Wheeeeeeee!  John Irving's 13th novel, In One Person, is expected May 2012.  Does that seem really far away to anyone else?  This news made my day. Library Journal's prepub review describes this new novel as a throwback to Irving's Garp days, with many odd and wonderful characters to meet along the way.  Very much looking forward to this book!


Back in the stacks

I'm finally back after a whirlwind year.  Having a baby and maternity leave left me with little time to devote to writing. I've missed posting to my blog and hope to get right back into the swing of things, starting right now!

One of the best things about the second half of a lovely year off with my son was afternoon naps. His naps, not mine. Afternoon naps meant and hour or two totally devoted to reading. I devoured many books in the last six months and thought that, this being my first post back in some time, I would highlight the best of the bunch.

The first novel I actually finished after my son arrived (general sleeplessness made for lots of failed reading attempts), was The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.  I have to admit, I was totally skeptical about a book narrated by a dog.  I mean, how good could it be?  Well, I LOVED it!  I pretty much bawled my eyes out through the whole novel.  Stein made this style of narration work and was able to tell the story of this family in a truly moving way.  Definitely worth a read.

Once I realized I had time to read again, I went on a huge fantasy/sci fi kick.  Here are some titles of note:

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss.  The second book in the trilogy continues Kvothe's adventures and was a book I couldn't put down.

Speaking of books I couldn't put down.  I recommend hurrying up and reading the Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins, before the movies come out.  Excellent, quick read, with a very dystopian slant.

A Dance With Dragons, of course, I had on  hold at the library before the book even came out.  There's something about being the first to use the new library copy.  Although, not my favourite of the series, I still spent every free second reading.  I was glad to reconnect with my favourite characters absent from the previous novel.  Can't wait for the next volume and hopefully we don't have to wait so long this time. As an aside, I also love the show.  They are doing an excellent job and I'm totally looking forward to the next season.

So this is turning into a long post.  I'll cut it off here.  It's very nice to write about books again and I'll be back soon with a review of Haruki Murakami's 1Q84.  About a third of the way through, and it is, for sure, one of the best books I've read in a long time.


The Retreat - David Bergen

I wasn't the biggest fan of The Time in Between, but the novel was very well written and I'm always willing to give a great writer another try. I enjoyed The Retreat a little bit more. I felt the story was stronger and the characters were well developed.

I think my uneasyness to say I loved this book stems from the fact that his novels, the two I've read, don't end on the happiest note. Bergen is adept at creating and describing the relationships between his characters. In this novel, Berger really shows that you can never really know someone, no matter how close you think you are, you can never truly see to the deepest depths of someone's soul.

I honestly don't have much else to say. Bergen's novels, although very well written with great character development and relationships, leave me feeling utterly depressed.


Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

At first glance, it appears the novel is about a young girl attending boarding school, experiencing the trials and tribulations of growing up. But, as Kathy continues to tell her story, the reader soon realizes not all is as it seems.

Over the course of the novel, various clues reveal that these children will not have a regular adult life, but instead are created, cloned in fact, to exist only as organ donors; the boarding school, Hailsham, is basically a body farm. Yet, what makes this novel so unsettling is the nonchalant way Kathy tells the story, as if she has always accepted her fate and, in fact, believes that this is the natural order of things. This is made even stranger by the seemingly normal social relationships seen throughout the novel. These kids are experience life and love, just like any normal teenager; how can they be so blasé about their looming end?

That is only one of the many questions unresolved at the end of the novel, not to mention such themes as the moral and ethical use of clones for harvesting organs. Are clones less human than the people receiving the donations? Ahhh, this definitely left me deep in thought.

This book is an interesting, yet disturbing, look at what our own future may hold.