This is the story of a nerdy, overweight Dominican-American guy who is searching for love. Oscar lives in New Jersey and he loves science fiction, comic books and - in a painfully unrequited way - women. Early on the narrator informs us that Oscar's family is haunted by "fuku," a curse which haunts generation after generation. We follow the family history back to the Domincan Republic where we learn about his mother's painful past, as well as about the series of disasters that befell his grandparents.
All along the way, our narrator charts the course of Domincan history during the period when Rafael Trujillo, a brutal dictator, ran the country and persecuted the bourgeoisie, and just about anyone else who got in his way. (That includes those who wouldn't quickly turn over their daughters to him for his sexual pleasure.)
There's a lot going on in this book - it jumps around in point of view, in location, in time and in structure. Most of the family's story is told in the main narrative; the political nightmare that was Trujillo is mostly told in footnotes. The story also mixes up languages - it is written in English, but there's a great deal of Spanish slang as well. (I could have used a Spanish/English dictionary, but I was too lazy.)
I'm not sure if this duality (narrative/footnotes, English/Spanish, family/country) structurally reflects the immigrant experience, or if it is more illustrative of a younger author. Junot Diaz was in his 30s when he wrote the book, and in my experience, younger people tend to present things in a less linear way.
In any event, the book was intense and haunting. It was also funny in places. The book group was pretty positive on balance. And evidently so was the committee that awarded Diaz with the Pulitizer Prize, which may carry just a little bit more weight as a recommendation.
And Melanie, our host, made a paella. If you don't think what we ate is relevant, then you don't know my Book Group.