Andy's Reviews > The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
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Dec 24, 2007

it was ok
Read in December, 2007

I bought Oscar Wao as a birthday gift for my mother in October based on scores of sterling reviews. She read it, gave it a mild thumbs-up (probably just being nice) and handed it off to me. Now having read it, I'm pretty mortified I thought this book would be something she might like.

The critical consensus seemed to be that Junot Diaz is a good writer, and he picked a good story to tell here in his first novel. But I found this book lacking on both counts. I found the writing lazy and unexpressive in many places. Granted, I have no Spanish-language background, so there were some important places in the novel where I couldn't get the total meaning of the sentences, but I thought Diaz's reliance on slang & colloquialism arose more out of laziness than from the narrative voice, which was often sloppy. There are multiple narrators and they mostly talk in the same voice, with the same elements of short humor & pithy street wisdom offered.

The story was just as diappointing. There were efforts made at epic storytelling here - tackling the Trujillo dictatorship of the Dominican and its spiritual ramifications on the generations of the de Leon family. But when you boil this thing down, it's just the story of a loser teenager trying to get laid. And there aren't any characters who raise the level of discussion. Besides Oscar, his mother's trying to get laid, his sister's trying to get laid, and so it seems the essence of the Dominican character is about getting laid. Maybe it's honest, but it's not saying much about their culture relevance. It was hard for me to take away any large messages from this book when it operates from such a crude fundamental point.

I give it two stars only because Diaz seems to have a knack for narrative - the plot is well-constructed, even if it is slight & irrelevant - and there are a few characters who will remain in my mind.
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02/17/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-28 of 28) (28 new)

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Diane Poor you,Andy buying this book for yor mother! But how would you know, it's been given such glowing reviews. One thing that could have big plus would have been having a Spanish glossary in the book. I'm wavering between 2 and 3 stars myself....70 pages to go.


Jonathan Dude... You're so... wrong.


Kerry Drury I'm a 61 y/o mother and thought this book was brilliant in every way. I completely disagree that the narrators talk in the same voice!

Try re-reading it?


Trudie This is Diaz's second novel, not his first.


Jacqueline Quackenbush "Besides Oscar, his mother's trying to get laid, his sister's trying to get laid, and so it seems the essence of the Dominican character is about getting laid."

Biologically speaing, I think the essence of everyone's character is to get laid ;D


Anthony Murphy Your review was perfect!

I really couldn't put my finger on it, but you took the words right out of my mouth of what was wrong with this novel.


Shauna I think the point is that even loser teenagers trying to get laid have a story, and Diaz humanizes the people most of us who avoid and never get to know anything about at all.


Laura I agree with you about the style, it was too coloquial, too confesional. It also included a lot of "self-pity".


Marisa Great Review! totally agree, and btw- I DO speak spanish. That didn't help make it more interesting.... The lil history lessons in the story were great though


Roachkin Getting laid is a minor thing? Something unworthy of being written about? News to me.


message 11: by Dwayne (last edited Oct 21, 2012 02:32PM) (new)

Dwayne Andy: I know I'm a little late to your discussion (a few years), but let me say this.

I think your review may underestimate the importance of Oscar's struggle in the novel.

You mentioned, "and so it seems the essence of the Dominican character is about getting laid." That’s the very point.

This is also the problem that Junot Diaz is trying to highlight. How some Dominican men are measuring their manliness by how much they can "get laid." I feel Diaz is using Oscar's story to point this out, as well as to point out a universal issue; how do men define themselves? How often would men, nowadays, who are 18 and up, Dominican or otherwise, admit freely that they are virgins? Not many. How many feel they are less of a man because they are a virgin? Probably a lot.

Imagine if YOU had never had sex in your whole, entire life. (Not trying to pry on your personal life.) But there are people in this world who are struggling to "get some," for lack of a better term. It is part of life. Men and women mate, and sometimes some struggle to find someone to "do it with." You mentioned it was a "crude" subject, but there are some things in life you can’t get away from. I had the same impression you did at first … I thought it was crude, a bit on the erotic side, but then I said to myself, that’s life. It’s a basic human emotion. It’s part of life, it's part of the human condition. This, my friend, is what true literature is about. It sheds new light on the human condition.

Let’s get detailed, shall we? The novel on a thematic level is about what people are willing to do, the price they are willing to pay, for love. It cost Oscar his life. So, the novel is saying that Love is worth your Life. Whether or not you agree with that statement, is for you to decide. But it certainly is worth discussion. Would you give your life for love? I’m sure your partner would be interested in the answer. Trust me, it’s a worthy topic of discussion.

If you remember, Oscar was in love with the prostitute Ybón toward the end of the novel. Her boyfriend, a police officer, almost killed Oscar when he caught him and Ybón together. Most men would have run away, Oscar did not. What would YOU have done? You see? This fear that one man has for another, is all human nature, the human condition, and is a very worthy topic of discussion.

There's also some talk about the slang used. Just because YOU don't know what the Spanish words mean doesn't mean Diaz is being lazy. Many of the words used in Spanish are a play on those very Spanish words. I know it’s tough for those who don’t speak Spanish, but you can’t say adding Spanish words takes away from the Richness of the novel if you don’t even know what the words mean! That’s like calling Tolstoy lazy for including entire segments of French into War and Peace (and he incorporated much large blocks of French than Junot Diaz did with Spanish. Diaz only did a word here, two words there. Tolstoy, my friend, would put entire paragraphs in French.) But I think Junot Diaz’s narrator was wholly justified in using a Spanish word here or there, because, well, this is how some Dominicans who live in the U.S. speak.

But as far as the "hood / ghetto thug" lingo that the narrator Yunior was using, I found that wholly appropriate, too! That's where he's from, the “hood.” That's how he describes things, that’s part of what makes him an individual, and one of the reasons why you will probably remember Yunior for a long time to come.

Also, people like Yunior exist in our society. Why shouldn’t they have a voice in literature? Why should they have to change the way they speak to accommodate YOUR limitations?

Yunior is hardly at a disadvantage when it comes to vocabulary. If you pay close attention, you’ll realize that Yunior’s way of speaking reveals boatloads about the characters in the story he’s narrating, and it reveals boatloads about him. All you saw was the street slang, but Yunior was well versed in Opera, too. There were several references to Wagner’s opera Götterdämmerung.

And more importantly, Yunior reveals another dimension of the story thanks to his honesty. He seems to say the most inappropriate things at the most inappropriate times, giving the novel its sense of brutal honesty. There were times I was reading just to see what the hell Yunior was going to say about this incident and that incident. Usually he was blunt, but always honest and revealing.

Sometimes you can make things sound pretty and correct, all while speaking some form of “correct English” that has been imposed upon you. But remember that is only a layer, a disguise, a disguise that rests on top of the truth. Sometimes getting at the truth means you have to pull off that mask, and yes, get “crude.”

So, to all those people that were “offended” by the honesty of this novel, well, good. That means you probably got glimpse of what it was like for Oscar and his family. If anything, Junot Diaz did too-amazing of a job in transporting you to a world that you were uncomfortable being in. Which is fine. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. But it lets us know that this world has a long way to go. You’re lucky to be able to experience your uncomfortableness through the lens of literature, and not stuck having to live through Junot Diaz’s stories, that for many, sadly, are more truth than fiction.


message 12: by Am (new) - rated it 5 stars

Am When did his mom and/or sister try to "get laid". Seems like all three were more about love. The only character who could be simplified in that way was Yunior.


Ruthmgon @Am--it seemed like Yunior wrote those sections to me....


Elise Damn, I just wanted poor Oscar to get laid!


message 15: by J (new) - added it

J Romelio, I really enjoyed your review. Or is it a counter-review? :)


message 16: by Megan (new)

Megan Completely agree. This book left no impression on me. I was literally bored the entire time I read it and I don't become bored easily (I'm currently reading the entirety of Les Miserables).


message 17: by Dwayne (new)

Dwayne Jennie wrote: "Romelio, I really enjoyed your review. Or is it a counter-review? :)"

Thanks.


Milagros I kept reading it, thinking, "it'll get better." Nope. Couldn't sympathise with Oscar, and I'm a) Latina, b) a geek. The only thing I enjoyed was the window into Dominican history.


message 19: by Dwayne (new)

Dwayne Milagros, come on. I don't think it's about being latino. How could you not sympathize with someone who simply can't find love. No matter where he turns, people are denying him love? You can't sympathize with that?


Elise Romelio, I agree with you one hundred percent. I sympathized deeply with Oscar and actually wanted more of the title character's story in the novel. I already knew quite a bit about Dominican history and didn't realize I was signing on for a history lesson when I started to read this "novel". If I wanted that, I would read non-fiction.


message 21: by Dwayne (new)

Dwayne Well, that I can certainly agree with, Elsie. Couldn't of said it better myself.


message 22: by John (new)

John Gervasoni Thank you. Your review has made me never want to read the book.


Anipat I'm sorry that you feel that way about the book. I tink that it was amazing. And coming from a country with the same situation as the Dominican Republic and being aware of the experiences of the cultural minority in a First World country, I find that the book is insightful, real, and relevant. It speaks about post-colonialism and discrimination as well. Maybe you should read it again.


Calico Diaz attempts to elevate science fiction, fantasy and comics as literature, but literature should convey a universal truth. Instead of exploring the human condition, Diaz conveys the Dominican condition and falls short of literary achievement.

Without theme, the non-Dominican reader must find merit in Diaz's style and narratives. Diaz writes very well, but his narrative is muddled. I felt he was attempting to convey a culture he doesn't understand.


message 25: by Christie (new) - added it

Christie Dwayne's comment gave life to this review! Lol


Harman Kour I second that.


message 27: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Miner I'm here strictly for Dwayne's comment. Brava!


Amrina LOL. Kudos to you for having the courage to gift your mom a book where the central character's ambition is to get laid.


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