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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