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Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot DiazThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Published by Faber & Faber
Publication Date: 2008-09-04
Genres: Contemporary, Drama, Fiction, General, World or cultural
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
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three-stars

I both despised vehemently the parts set in America while I devoured and was intrigued by the parts set in Dominican Republic. The book had me mesmerized, haunted, disgusted and utterly conflicted.

Synopsis from Barnes & Noble:

“This is the long-awaited first novel from one of the most original and memorable writers working today.

Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the fukú – the curse that has haunted the Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.

Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican–American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss. A true literary triumph, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao confirms Junot Diaz as one of the best and most exciting voices of our time.

Winner of the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, for Fiction.

My Thoughts:

Oscar is a Dominican-American boy, born of a Dominican mother when the country was ruled by the merciless dictator Trujillo. Oscar isn’t like other Dominican teenagers who chase girls and have that stereotypical machismo, he has never even kissed a girl. He is an overweight “ghetto nerd” throwing himself into his role-playing games, writing stories like his favorite novels and comics. Mr. Diaz takes the reader through agonizing detail of just how out-of-place Oscar is with both the American culture he grows up in and the Dominican culture when he visits his grandmother. So much agonizing detail of how weak Oscar is physically and mentally, and profanity that I almost gave up on reading this book, I expected more from the “wondrous” Oscar Wao part of the title.

To counteract Oscar’s pathetic misery are the very strong, opinionated and proud women in his family, his mother Belicia, his sister Lola and his grandmother La Inca. His mother’s story of being orphaned from an idyllic family, the unspeakable tragedies she endured growing up during the reign of the dictator and the curse that seems to follow her and her Oscar is what piqued my interest and kept me riveted (during those parts set in DR).

What I also enjoyed was being transported to a different culture and time. While Mr. Diaz’s agonizing detail portraying the ruthlessness of Trujillo made me sick to my stomach, it set the backstory for why Oscar’s mother had such a strong spirit and a hardened heart. The strength of her spirit and resolve allowed her to endure her harsh reality.

I have wanted to visit DR and I loved the description of the scenery, “One of the authors of the King James Bible traveled the Caribbean, and I often think it was a place like Samana that was often on his mind when he sat down to pen the Eden chapters. For Eden it was, a blessed meridian where mar and sol and green have forged their union and produced a stubborn people that no amount of highfalutin prose can generalize.” Despite the “mind-boggling poverty” and political turmoil, DR is described as a land of immense beauty, tasty food (I love plantains), rum, salsa and merengue dancing, and sugar cane fields.

Honestly, I am not sure why it won the Pulitzer but maybe it’s because it evokes such a powerful response from the reader. I both despised vehemently the parts set in America while I devoured and was intrigued by the parts set in DR which is why I felt the need to explain my vague 3-star rating. The book had me mesmerized, haunted, disgusted and utterly conflicted.

Favorite Quotes:

“Success after all, loves a witness, but failure can’t exist without one.”

“Nothing more exhilarating (he wrote) than saving yourself by the simple act of waking.”

“in Santo Domingo a story is not a story unless it casts a supernatural shadow.”

“…and being called Huascar by everybody (that was his Dominican name, something else he’d forgotten), after he refused to succumb to that whisper that all long-term immigrants carry inside themselves, the whisper that says You do not belong…”

 

Challenges Satisfied:

Around the World in 80 Books Reading Challenge – set in the Dominican Republic and the US

What did you think of Oscar? If you could change the title, how would you describe Oscar’s life? No spoilers here but did it end how you thought it would? If you have read this book, let me know what you thought of it. What books do you have a love/hate relationship with? I would love to hear from you! Thanks for visiting and Happy reading!

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About Junot Diaz

From author’s website: “Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Drown; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award. A graduate of Rutgers College, Díaz is currently the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He is the cofounder of Voices of Our Nation Workshop.”

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10 Comments

  1. I started reading this book while on vacation (it was on the book shelf in our rented cabin). I loved the sections on DR history, but the more I read I became less impressed with Oscar. I set it aside to read a book I’d brought with me instead. After reading your review I think I’ll finish it just for the history and culture. Sounds like it will be worth it.

  2. Uh oh. Just realized my email was wrong in my previous comment.

    Interesting review here. I was contemplating reading his latest and know some people who love it and others who hate it. So I am on the fence. Thanks for the honest info.

    1. Yea, I was excited about this book, being the first current Pulitzer Prize winning book I have read. I would probably give his new book a try. It’s all about the journey a book takes you on which makes it fun to read. This one definitely threw me for a loop and back and forth many times over that fine line between love and hate.

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