Nancy McKibben's Reviews > The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, reviewed
Recommended for: readers who like high-energy prose

The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
By Junot Diaz

This is one of those books I’ve been intending to read forever (it was published in 2007.) What did I love about it?

I loved the characters. The tragic hero of the story is Oscar, who is, to his despair, an eternally obese, pimpled, and nerdy teenager who falls hopelessly in love at every opportunity. As a friend describes him: “Dude wore his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber or a Lensman her lens. Couldn’t have passed for Normal if he’d wanted to.” But despite his social cluelessness, Oscar has a fine mind, and a sweet, noble character.

I loved the language, which is a rambunctious Spanglish. This is an often-funny book, but also a sad one, so the liveliness of the language balances the often-tragic subject matter. Here’s a sample, narrated by Oscar’s sister Lola:
A punk chick. That’s what I became. A siouxsie and the Banshees-loving punk chick. The puertorican kids on the block couldn’t stop laughing when they saw my hair, they called me Blacula, and the morenos, they didn’t know what to say: they just called me devil-bitch. Yo, devil-bitch, yo, yo! My tia Rubelka thought it was some kind of mental illness. Hija, she said while frying pastilitos, maybe you need help. . .

My mother was one of the tallest women in Paterson, and her anger was just as tall. . .Things had been bad between us all year. How could they not have been? She was my Old World Dominican mother and I was her only daughter, the one she had raised up herself with the help of nobody, which meant it was her duty to keep me crushed under her heel. . . If you didn’t grow up like I did then you don’t know and if you don’t know it’s probably better you don’t judge. You don’t know the hold our mothers have on us, even the ones that are never around - especially the ones that are never around. What it’s like to be the perfect Dominican daughter, which is just a nice way of saying a perfect Dominican slave.
I loved the setting. The novel shoots back and forth between the Dominican Republic and the United States as several characters narrate their own stories or someone else’s, not in chronological order. The author incorporates a large amount of disturbing Dominican history in which the U.S. foreign policy does not shine very brightly. Part of the author’s genius is his ability to engage the reader in Dominican history, even when it does not directly relate to the plot - it always relates indirectly.

Characters, language, setting - what’s not to love about this book? (Okay, it's sometimes not the easiest book to read - the plot is not linear, there's a lot of untranslated Spanish, and more profanity than I really like - but I didn't care!) Read it and be entertained, enchanted, and enlightened.

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Reading Progress

January 30, 2013 – Started Reading
January 31, 2013 – Finished Reading
February 7, 2013 – Shelved
February 7, 2013 – Shelved as: favorites
February 7, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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