It's hard to describe this book or the effect that it has. The novel is an exposé on the troubled history of the de Leon/Cabral family, their immigration from the Dominican Republic to America, and how a curse that stretches all the way back to that pendejo Christopher Columbus haunts them throughout time. It focuses specifically on Oscar, the youngest child, an obese nerd in the 80's/90's, who falls in love easily but is destined to be the only Dominicano to never get laid.
This book may sound like every other immigrant family/coming of age saga out there, but what sets this apart from any other book I've ever read is the novel's style and it's delightful narrator. The story is dictated by the almost omniscient Yunior, a friend of the family who was once Oscar's roommate, with a conversational, word-on-the-street style. A style that's a gumbo mixture of formal, poetic prose, code-switching Spanglish, historical footnotes, and a plethora of nerd culture references: everything from Lord of the Rings, Dune, Point Blank, Joseph Conrad, and Planet of the Apes. I know a bit of Spanish and I'm familiar with some of the references so I didn't have a hard time with it the way some people have. There is lots of history about the Dominican Republic during the reign of dictator Rafael Trujillo, and the story could have easily turned into a depressing, boring slog, but the book's irresistible style prevented all that.
I feel silly reading the above synopsis that I wrote. The book is about more than that. It's about love, family, and legacy that manages to be heartbreaking and joyous at the same time. It's about embracing your inner nerd and about finding your way back home. I don't know, I feel like I'm not doing this awesome novel justice with this review. Maybe I shouldn't have even written one! I'll just stop here and let the book (and Yunior) speak for itself:
"Hey, it's only a story, with no solid evidence, the kind of shit only a nerd could love."