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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Wao Wows

Oscar is a severely overweight, geeky boy growing up in New Jersey.  The thing he wants most in life is to find a girlfriend. It’s a pipe dream though that has him rebounding into his comics, sci-fi novels, video games, and endeavors at writing his own books, when time after time, year after year he’s unsuccessful in love.  His greatest supporter is his devoted sister, Lola, who’s trying to find her own way in life.  She’s very pretty, but also stubborn and determined—like her mother, Belicia. Belicia, is a single mom, tougher than nails, working two and three jobs to support Oscar and Lola.  She’s an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, and as we learn more about Oscar’s attempts to find love and Lola’s rebellions, we also learn the history that made Belicia such a harsh, cold, and unbending force.

I liked this book and the characters.  I especially liked hearing about Belicia’s and her father’s backgrounds in the Dominican Republic.  The book was knee high in fascinating footnotes about DR history, which piqued my interest.  Apparently I must have once again slept through history class, or maybe my teacher did, because the terrible reign of Trujillo was all new to me. 

The tone of the book was fresh and kept a good pace. Using the narrator’s words about Oscar’s writing style, author Junot  Díaz  “Could write dialogue, crack snappy exposition, keep the narrative moving.”[1] In other words, the author’s prose in this book was filled with a sharp, amusing street language rattling with F-bombs and at times blushable sexual references, which might make those brujas, who petition to have Of Mice and Men banned from schools, crap their pantalones.

The small drawback that this non-Latina found was the generous heaping of Spanish throughout the book.  My mucho years in Spanish class weren’t enough to understand the foreign words that loudly beat like drums on each page. I felt a little left out, excluded. At first I tried looking up a word or two, but the slang didn’t translate well and in the end it got a bit tiresome. I would have felt the same way if it were any other American's native tongue seizing the pages like that, whether it was Chinese, Greek, Russian, Vietnamese, Norwegian, or whatever. But on the whole, it was worth the sacrifice to glaze over the numerous words and phrases.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was GOOD. Although, I didn’t connect with the Spanish, and while I’m neither a grossly overweight sci-fi fan nor lonely and unloved, I could still relate to Oscar’s general fumbling social awkwardness. He was the underdog, and I was rooting for him. Díaz was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in fiction as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award for this book. I can see why.

Happy reading,

[1] Junot Díaz  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (New York, Riverhead Books—A Member of the Penguin Group USA, 2007) 173.


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