Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

08 Jul

Do you know who Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina is? No? Well, most people who are not Dominican probably don’t know either. Fortunately for readers of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz provides a crash course in DR history and culture, including the life and crimes of 20th century dictator Trujillo. This Pulitzer Prize-winning book centers on the life of Oscar–an overweight, smart, socially inept, bullied teen who is an expert on the crummy side of unrequited love. Set in New Jersey and the Dominican Republic, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a moving and engaging look at culture, family traditions and the way those things permeate through every facet of life. After reading this book, the reader feels much more knowledgeable about Dominican culture, at least as it is expressed in the de Leon family.

In addition to providing a great story (mostly in English, but also in Spanish and Spanglish), Diaz uses language in a very interesting way. Not every quote is inside of quotation marks, yet somehow the reader is able to keep up. Though Diaz is not afraid of a footnote, most of the Spanish phrases sprinkled through out the book are not translated. English only speakers get the gist of it though and Spanish speakers have another layer to peel. The tone of the narrator makes one feel like Diaz is sitting right there in the living room telling a story. So even though there are page-long footnotes about mid-20th century military operations, descriptions of savage crimes and more than a few sci-fi references, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a surprisingly quick read.

The beauty and technical merit of the writing combined with the endearing main characters and the evil, evil, evilness of the villains make The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao a must-read.
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Posted by on July 8, 2010 in Reading, Reviews


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3 responses to “Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

  1. The Jaded NYer

    July 9, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    YAY YAY YAY!!!!!! This is a totally awesome book and I’m so glad you enjoyed it. If you haven’t read Drown (Diaz’s collection of short stories) you must!

  2. loveisdope

    July 11, 2010 at 9:59 am

    I love books that inspire me to learn more about stuff. Like most Americans, I knew very little about Dominican history. Even though I’ve been there of course did a little research before I went, I still didn’t learn everything. I’ll be putting my library card to use!

    Yes, I’ll have to get to Drown. Most people who have read both said Oscar Wao was much better than that short story collection, but I’ll keep an open mind.

  3. Dionne

    July 12, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    I absolutely LOVE this book. Mostly because of the way history is intertwined into the story. I think one way or another many people know someone like Oscar Wao. It was both tragic and hilarious at the same time. Drown is also a good read, I can’t wait to see what’s next for Diaz.


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