20 Mar 2011

Review: "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" - Wondrous indeed

As I wrote a post about earlier this week, I am taking part in the "Back to the Classics 2011" Challenge. As part of this challenge, I have to read a Pulitzer Prize winner or nominee and as I had "The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz waiting for me on a bookshelf, I took this opportunity to read it. It has been widely praised and I have been quite sure that I would like it but at the same time have not starting reading it for fear that it would be a disappointment... I know, silly!

The Oscar of the title is Oscar de Léon whose family the reader gets to know intimately. His grandfather, the famous doctor living in Santo Domingo while it was governed by the dictator Trujillo who stopped at nothing to eliminate suspected enemies. In this country of spying neighbours and fear, Oscar's family is struck by a fuku, a sort of curse which might follow them for several generations. Then there is Oscar's mother Beli who immigrates to USA because of the aforementioned Trujillo and who seems to be forever dissatisfied with her life and whose love is tough. In her home in New Jersey, Oscar and his formidable older sister Lola grow up but while Lola is a strong girl, a survivor with legs that go on forever, Oscar is a geek, a nerd and a loser. He loves role play, dungeons and dragons, manga, playing computer for hours and to make his life even harder, he is horribly overweight and loves girls. Falling in love and loving fiercely are central themes in this novel which is told not in chronological order but stumbling from one decade to another as we get to know the de Leons better and better.
I loved that the author did not let himself by confined by a need for chronological order. It makes the story come to life and keeps the reader guessing. What will happen now? Who is the narrator?

The book is very very well-written. My favourite part is that it mixes English with an abundance of spanish words and slang which at first was every so slightly difficult to understand but soon became part of the story and it added flavour and authencity to the tale. I knew nothing about Santo Domingo when I started out reading the book but as the story unfolds, the island plays a central role and now I find myself wanting to learn more about Santo Domingo and the story and culture of Santo Domingo. So if you have any suggestions for books about this topic, please send me a comment.

What really caught me about this book was not the style or the story as much as Oscar himself. At some points, especially during his college years, I was moved to tears because he is such a sweet boy. Such a good man and so lonely, so misunderstood and so sad. I wanted to put my arms around him and tell him that everything was going to be okay. That, for me, is the must impressive part of the book. That it brings Oscar to life, makes to a real person and made me want to get to know him and spend time with him and his cool sister Lola. Being able to do that, create that magic, is the gift of a great story teller.


  1. I really really want to read this book! Thank you for your review!

  2. I have so many books I have not started yet because I fear they will be a disappointment. At the moment Room, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Passage all fit into that category.

    The story of this one sounds really interesting. I had seen it in shops before but didn't know what it was about until now.

  3. I've got this sitting on my nightstand to be read. It sounds like it will be a good one. Nice review.

  4. Sarah and Brenna, this is a really great book, do give it a try. I am sure you won't regret it.

    Sam, glad I am not the only one :-) Room is really great as well.