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

oscar waoI have been waiting a while to read this, probably ever since I first heard of it. It had a lot of hype surround it, and author Junot Diaz was touted as some kind of living writing god.

My thoughts: it’s good, but didn’t live up to my high expectations.

I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I:

  1. Knew more Spanish words so I could understand the frequent forays into Spanglish (I did learn some slang words from this book, though!)
  2. Had more of an interest in the historical stuff about the Dominican Republic.

That being said, it was definitely fresh and cool and everything that people said it would be. The voice narrating the story, which I think turns out to be Oscar’s sister Lola’s sometime boyfriend, talks to the reader like it’s his bro, and they’re maybe sitting over a drink while he’s telling this friend about poor, unfortunate Oscar.

What this book boils down to is that Oscar is the nerdiest of nerds, a sci-fi fat kid from the Dominican, living in Jersey, dreaming of getting with a girl but doomed to die lonely. The book title clues us in that Oscar’s life will perhaps end prematurely, along with the visual cue of the blood spattered head adorning the book’s cover.

But it’s more than that. It’s a family history, an urban legend and the story of a nation all rolled into one. Oscar’s story is only a portion of the novel. It meanders over to his sister, Lola, his mother, his grandfather and others and takes place in two countries. It’s complex, smart, hip and moving.

I have Diaz’s follow-up, This is How You Lose Her, and will be interested to see if his style carries into that one, as well. Check him out. I think he’s a name you will hear more frequently as his work draws more praise from critics and readers alike.

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