|FABER & FABER|
the guardian Sat 17 January 2009
Oscar Wao is an unlikely hero, and Díaz's Pulitzer-winning debut novel an improbable triumph. Wao, a second-generation Dominican living in New Jersey, crams his face with pizza and his head with comic books, trying to make up in geekery what he lacks in sex appeal. As Oscar grows from chubby child to uncomfortable young man, the curse that has haunted his family is never far away. Yet even his swelling body is dwarfed by the presence of Rafael Trujillo, whose self-serving rule defined Dominica between 1930 and 1961. Alert to the latest plots and the prettiest girls, "El Jefe" is rarely seen, but his influence is everywhere as his informants feed him half-truths and his men deliver horrific beatings. Díaz's narrative is full of characters who should be caricatures - the ugly duckling turned buxom swan, the timid doctor, the laddish lothario. His skill is to colour them in with humour and compassion, forming a sparkling tale of banter, love and rage. Sharp, sad and gleeful, this passionate and richly rewarding novel deserves its plaudits.