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June 2018: Magical Realism > The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz - 3 stars

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message 1: by Joy D (new)

Joy D | 4650 comments The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz - 3 stars

Historical fiction about the life of Oscar, an intelligent and eccentric social misfit, told primarily by his so-called “friend” (and sister’s ex-boyfriend), Yunior. The narrator uses the colloquial manner of one who speaks both English and Spanish fluently, inserting phrases that are sometimes discernable from the context, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep a translation tool (that includes slang) at hand. I’m guessing this is the author’s attempt to show the reader what it feels like to be an outsider. The narrator does not endear himself to the reader. He appears narcissistic and misogynistic. He uses racial slurs, objectifies women, and indulges in numerous infidelities with no signs of remorse. I could go on but suffice it to say I found him highly unpleasant. The narrator provides background on Oscar and his family members, with a significant portion covering the barbarism of Trujillo and his devastation of the culture of the Dominican Republic.

I had mixed feelings about this book. On the positive side, the story shows the lasting impact of violence on a family through multiple generations. I thought the author did a good job of conveying the timeless themes of longing for love and acceptance through the character of Oscar. Pop cultural and literary references abound, which can either add to or detract from the narrative depending on the reader’s viewpoint. The magical realism element of this book centers around a curse on the family (called a fukú). It can be read as a superstitious belief if one is not inclined to believe in curses. On the negative side, I did not particularly enjoy spending time in a world where there is so much hate. I disliked the misogynistic tone and the relentless pessimism.

Contains graphic violence, brutal beatings, sexual violence including rape, politically-based murder, child abuse, abuse of power, racism, sexism, bullying, street slang, and profanity in several languages. Definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Link to my review:

message 2: by Michael (new)

Michael (mike999) | 569 comments Great review. All true and serious challenge to reading pleasure. Yet I felt for Oscar and found heroism in his creative fantasy life. And as bad as the narrator is, his admiration for Oscar yielded hope from me of his getting humanized. The mix of tragedy and comedy is hard to take in but artful to me.

message 3: by Joy D (new)

Joy D | 4650 comments Thanks, Michael. I felt for Oscar as well, and agree it was artful.

message 4: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 6407 comments I'll say it's a "challenge to reading pleasure!"

I quit after 100 pages ... just couldn't take it any more. I was reading it for my F2F book club and I usually persevere for the sake of discussion, but only one person in the group of 8 finished and saw any merit in it.

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