29 December 2010

Review of Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao




Junot Diaz’  Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao tells the story of a family, at the center of which is teenage superdork, Oscar DeLeon. The narrator, Yunior, is connected to the DeLeon family through his on again off again love affair with Oscar’s sister, Lola.  Through his connection to Lola, Yunior finds himself entangled in the turbulent life of Oscar. 

Oscar is a serious nerd.  He loves science fiction, and he is overweight, and he’s never been kissed.  This is completely antithetical to his Dominican-ness, and his family blames his lack of luck on Fuku, a curse on their family that Oscar believes to be merely superstition.  The story is the story of the curse, and the history of the family that produced Oscar, whose “brief, wondrous life” is a catalyst for the telling.

I enjoyed this book and felt like I learned a lot about Dominican immigrants in New York and New Jersey, and also a lot about the history of the Dominican Republic.  Diaz includes points of historical note in footnotes, which kind of drive me nuts, but didn’t seem that disruptive or unnecessary here.

The one complaint that I have with the book is that I had trouble with the narrative voice.  Yunior works as a narrator- he is an insider/outsider, and also provides a sympathetic foil for Oscar.  However, I found both Lola and Oscar to be more compelling, stronger  (more quirky) characters.  There was also something about the pace of the narrative that irritated me, but I can’t put my finger on what it was.  Did anyone else feel this way?  There are parts narrated by Lola that felt smoother to me than those in the voice of Yunior.  I often read aloud, and I found myself tripping a lot on this narration.

Overall:  I would recommend this book, but I’m not sure I feel as enthusiastic as some people do about it.  I thought that the characterization of both Oscar and Lola was wonderful, and I was compelled by the story of the DeLeon family.   

4 comments:

  1. I have been wanting to read this book for a very long time, but keep putting it off in case it's not as good as I hope it will be!

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  2. i read this so long ago that i can't remember specifically what i thought of the narrative voice/pace; it was mostly interesting to me because i went to rutgers and lived in demerest one year. a brief moment of fame for the state u of nj! i also missed a lot of the geekier references, to old sci-fi flicks and stuff, that my dad was able to get when i described them. (if you can find it, watch diaz's interview on the colbert report - really funny/cute/geeky.)

    i liked diaz's story collection more than "oscar wao," so maybe that would be worth checking out if you haven't already?

    -- Ellen

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  3. @Sam: I hate that. Then it just keeps adding to the buildup. You should give it a shot. Although I didn't love it, I definitely thought it was worthwhile.

    @fatbooks.org: I've read a couple of Diaz's stories, but not the whole collection. I remember liking those a bit better.

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  4. I have not read this, but I have had it on my bookshelf for a long time because of the good reviews I have read. The story certainly sounds appealing to me (being a bit a of a dork myself!).

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