The de León family of Junot Diaz's 2007 novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" suffers from a fukú curse that brings violence into their lives. The book primarily focuses on Oscar de León, an overweight and unhappy boy born in New Jersey to Dominican Republic immigrants. His mother, Beli, emotionally abuses Oscar and his sister, Lola.

Through flashbacks, we learn that Beli fled the Dominican Republic after she was nearly killed for having an affair with the husband of the President's sister. We also learn of Beli's father, Abelard, who defied the President Rafael Trujillo by hiding his (other) beautiful daughter from Trujillo's lustful advances. For this crime, Abelard was arrested on false charges and sentenced to eighteen years in prison, while most of his family died mysteriously.

Oscar grows up obsessed with science fiction and fantasy stories and dreams of becoming a writer. His odd hobby, lack of intelligence, and poor appearance make him unpopular with his classmates and with girls. When he moves to the Dominican Republic as a young adult, he befriends a prostitute, but her jealous policeman boyfriend and his goons terrorize, kidnap, and beat Oscar.

Diaz sets the story against the backdrop of the corrupt Trujillo regime, which ruled the Dominican Republic through intimidation and violence for decades.

I enjoyed Diaz's slow reveal of the family history and how the curse affected multiple generations. I enjoyed the characters and the events that triggered their behavior. And I appreciated Oscar's dilemma, as I sometimes felt alone and isolated in my childhood, retreating to a world of comics and science fiction stories.

You may find barriers to reading this book. Because Oscar is obsessed with comics, science fiction, and fantasy, the narration contains numerous references to Lord of the Rings, Dune, Watchmen, and other nerdish works. If you are unfamiliar with these materials, you will miss the metaphors. He also frequently mixes Spanish words and phrases among the mostly English text. Although the reader can often figure out the meaning from the context, I kept a Spanish-English nearby as I read the book. Finally, Diaz inserts frequent footnotes, asking the reader to pause and read more details or background before continuing with the story.

"Wao" won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for its moving story and depiction of Dominican culture. It is not for everyone, but it is worth taking a chance to read.