Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - book review

When I originally decided to challenge myself to read all the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction, I honestly didn't realize how challenging it would be at times! As I mentioned in my review of The Color Purple, many of the books are "downers." Often this is because the stories involve deep issues that are not easily resolved and tend to have unsatisfactory endings.

I found this to be true once again as I read the 2008 winner, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. In all honesty, I almost quit reading this book several times because it contains so much vulgar language and explicit sexual references. The book is in English, however Spanish words and phrases are abundantly scattered throughout. (I began initially looking up the meaning of those words and phrases, however so many of them were also vulgar or inappropriate that I simply stopped and used the surrounding context to guess at their meaning.)

Here's a synopsis from the book cover: Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fuku' - a curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, following them on their epic journey from the Dominican Republic to the United States and back again.
Basically, Oscar is an overweight, unpopular, nerd/geek who is desperate to lose his virginity. The story is narrated by Yunior as he recounts Oscar's life as well as the history of Oscar's mother, sister, and grandparents. All these stories are interspersed throughout Oscar's story, so the timeline jumps around a good bit. There really isn't anything "wondrous" about Oscar's life, unless flirting with danger in a way that eventually results in getting yourself killed is considered "wondrous."

The book also contains a good bit of history about the Dominican Republic and the 31-year regime of the dictator Trujillo. Much of this information is added in the form of footnotes, which is unusual in a fiction book and made it even more tedious to read.

Have you read this book? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. I've never read it, but have heard lots of good things about it. You share an alternate view to keep in mind.

  2. It sounds like one I would pass on. I limit the number of "downer" books I read by choosing very carefully - this doesn't appeal to me.

  3. Always good to get a perspective other than the received wisdom of the critics. You always write thoughtfully, and I admire your persistence in keeping going with your chosen goal!


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