Take My Advice…

waoWhen an award-winning novelist gives you a book recommendation, you should take it.

Fellow University Iowa alum and General Education Literature instructor — and honorary “lettered lady” — V. V. Ganeshananthan is my go-to source for teaching ideas as I plan my World Literature syllabi.  (Incidentally, she’s also the author of one of my favorite additions to World Lit and South Asian Lit syllabi: 2008’s Love Marriage. Read it.).  For years now, Sugi has been telling everyone who will listen – me and my fellow literature teachers, her students, even her unsuspecting Facebook friends – about the awesomeness of the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz.

So, it was with excitement (and a pen in hand) that I started the novel last week.  Somehow, I already knew I should be taking copious discussion notes in preparation for my upcoming Spring 2014 World Literature class.  I was not disappointed; some eight scribbled-on notebook pages later, I already am excited about the prospect of reading this again alongside twenty-five unsuspecting students.

Oscar Wao is everything I love in a novel – a diverse group of characters that readers have genuine sympathy for…but also simultaneously want to shake or slap in the face (see: my earlier post about Girls I Know); a complicated narrative structure that left me guessing (who is the narrator, again?  what is this person’s goal in telling me the story?); a foundational and likely little-known socio-historical context (the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic); and – the most fun! – loads of pop culture references and laugh out loud moments.

Most significantly, I’m still thinking about Oscar and Lola and Yunior and all of the others even days after finishing.

Take my advice: add The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to your summer reading list.