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

Book Cover - The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz

Oscar’s best friend (and narrator of the novel) Yunior decides to explore the fuku (curse) on Oscar’s family, and so traces their history in New JerseyBook Cover - The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz and the Dominican Republic as the fuku escalates throughout the generations, finally culminating in Oscar’s death. That is the story in a teeny-tiny little nutshell. This novel is much, much bigger than that and encompasses many things.  I think it requires bullet points.  Shall we?

  • The brutality of Dominican dictator Trujillo’s regime & other dictators who’ve ruled Dominican Republic with an iron fist.
  • Immersion within the Dominican culture in the United States and in Dominican Republic, complete with liberal phrases of untranslated Spanish.
  • The unspeakable tragedy that befell one woman and how it influenced her outlook on life and behavior as a mother.
  • Oscar’s painful yet comic coming of age story as a nerdy, socially inept, overweight teenager.
  • Science fiction and fantasy and pop culture references galore.

I didn’t want to read this book.  It was a book club pick, so I had no choice, but I did procrastinate every step of the way.  It took me two weeks to go and buy it (say what, two weeks to go and buy a book?), and then even more time to sit and start reading it. I think I might have had such resistance because I had just heard about it everywhere for the last year and was tired of it before I ever had the chance to read it.  I am really glad that I “had” to read this book because it turned out to be an amazing read that expanded me as a reader.

I had to work to fully experience and understand this humorous and bittersweet novel.  It took me about fifty pages to get into the story and still I wasn’t committed.  There were too many footnotes, I didn’t know the narrator -who was speaking to me so intimately, I was drowning in the Spanish (clearly my basic knowledge of the language was not going to do the trick). Help!  Get me out of here!  But as I continued reading I was pushed out of my comfort zone and into another culture, and these things that had started out as nuisances revealed themselves to be the best parts of the book.

Diaz portrays the mind numbing terror and coping mechanisms that evolve when people must survive in an environment where disappearances in the middle of the night are the norm, and a day at the office could include being either tortured and/or offering up your teenage daughter for rape and abuse by the leader of the country.  Oscar and his family have had to survive and navigate this world in addition to making ends meet and and striving for a better life in the States.  I was spell bound by their stories.

Yunior’s voice is authentic and hilarious and other voices chiming into the story are honest and heartbreaking.  Diaz renders the novel beautifully.  The story weaves back and forth between time and narrators, and the building suspense surrounding what happens to Oscar adds a palpable tension throughout, as all the pieces emerge and click tragically into place.

Highly Recommended.

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FTC Disclosure – I am an Amazon Associate.  This books was purchased as a part of my personal library collection.

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  1. Oh, I am so glad to read this! For countless months I have been procrastinating about this book, and now I want to pick it up. Thank you.

    1. I don’t know what it is about certain books that you know are likely to be god and have heard are good, but still you just dread reading them. I’m glad I took the plunge and stuck it out!

  2. I read this book and enjoyed it too. I actually like footnotes-these in particular because I did not know nearly enough of the Dominican Republic’s history to fully appreciate the story without them. And I enjoy the use of words and phrases in other languages in English prose. I never read without dictionaries at hand anyway. I was dubious when I started too because it took me a while to feel comfortable with the rhythm of his writing. I liked Oscar but didn’t like the way some of his family treated him. It wasn’t a perfect book for me, writing wise, but I think it was a story that needed to be told. It revealed a great deal to those not familiar with life, past and present, for people in that country. I recommend it highly too. I really hope Diaz has more novels in him because he’s off to a good start. Thank you for rreviewing this book.
    .-= Sandra´s last blog ..Library Loot =-.

  3. This is one that I was also hesitant in wanting to read…it is on my TBR list but I was unsure of it. Now I’m definitely wanting to give it a try. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it…I’ll be picking this one up soon 🙂
    .-= Samantha´s last blog ..Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson =-.

  4. I love footnotes in fiction books. Oddly enough, they bug me in non-fiction (mainly because I think the info can usually be incorporated into the text). But in fiction they crack me up.

    I struggled with the Spanish in this one initially, but once I relaxed and gave up trying to understand it, it seemed to work.
    .-= softdrink´s last blog ..Children of Dust =-.

  5. That’s the beauty of book clubs. A lot of times the selections make you read books you wouldn’t have picked up on your own. I don’t want to read this book for pretty much the same reasons you listed but now I am secretly hoping that it will be my book club’s selection one day 🙂
    .-= lilly´s last blog ..BTT: Gifts =-.

  6. There’s nothing better than thinking you will hate a book, having it start slow, and then finishing it with a wonderful, satisfied feeling. That is so cool that you ended up liking it after you resisted it. It sounds like it stretched you as a reader. I’m sure it would do the same for me!
    .-= Kathleen´s last blog ..Sunday Salon – A Great Start to 2010 =-.

  7. This is definitely one I intend to read this year. I know it is a hard read, but I really want to read it. I may struggle with the Spanish and the footnotes too.
    .-= vivienne´s last blog ..Friday Finds =-.

  8. Oh the buzz over this book! It was enough to give me a headache. I read the summary of the book so many times, trying to WANT to read it and I just couldn’t. Sounds like the same problem you had. Two weeks to buy it, and the store is right downstairs??? Still, where there is smoke, there is fire, and deep down inside I knew this would be a good read. Thank goodness for book clubs!
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..The Adoration of Jenna Fox – Mary E. Pearson =-.

  9. I am trying to get through this book right now. I am very distracted by the footnotes and the lapses into Dominican history. It’s a shame because the personal story is so compelling, I wish I wasn’t constantly being taken out of it. I’m about 200 pages in and hoping I can get through!
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Biking Memory #2 =-.

  10. I heard about this book a while ago and then forgot about it for ages — thanks for reminding me! Sounds like it’ll put my limited spanish skills to the test…
    .-= Dana´s last blog ..Bloggiesta! =-.

  11. Fabulous review, Nicole! I’m so glad you read it and liked it so much. I do know what you mean about getting tired of a book if you see it all over the place, but sometimes it’s great to be nudged to go ahead and read it anyway.
    .-= Nymeth´s last blog ..Birthday Book Loot =-.

  12. You described my feelings perfectly. I have absolutely no desire to read this one, but when we read In the Time of the Butterflies, one of the other members suggested that we read this one to learn more about Trujillo as Butterflies did not go in depth as far as the man’s personality, etc.

    It is nice to step outside your comfort zone once in awhile. Especially with us book bloggers because we know what works for us and what doesn’t and have so many books to read we sure don’t want to waste time on a lemon. That was a terribly long sentence but you know what I mean.
    .-= Ti´s last blog ..Moby Dick Monday: January 11, 2009 (Week 9) =-.