Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
What an amazing book. I don't normally go for Pullitzer Prize winners, Oprah Book club stuff, but this book was amazing. The book is not fantasy or science fiction (although you could argue there's a dollop of urban fantasy) but there are quite subtle inside references throughout to LOTR, Dune, the Watchmen, and Akira. This was just the icing on a vibrant, multi-lingual narrative that was so juicy Jonot could have kept me interested describing how grass grows, in real time.

Of course, the actual story was much more intense than the growing of grass. The central character, Oscar, is perhaps the ultimate nerd, the ultimate ne'er do well outsider, and Junot goes to great lengths to put him in his time and his circumstance, and manages to pull in 3 generations of his family and the terrible history of Trujillo and the Domincan Republic, and the life of DR immigrants in New Jersey.

The narrative begins and ends with Oscar, but Junot does something only the best authors can - he interrupts his narrative, sometimes quite abruptly, introducing new characters who manage to hold one's interest even more than the last characters. What makes this even better is that the new characters are often younger versions of supporting characters in previous pages, and this time seen in a very different (always more sympathetic) light. It's as if he's explaining "how they got that way". This is particulary true of the mother, Beli, who is first presented as a terrible force in Oscar's life, hard and relentless, and later painted as a little girl, conceived at the tail end of her great families fall, taken in by monsters, saved by distant family, and destroyed by her powerful ability to love.

I feel like I should say "This book changed my life" but really, it hasn't. I am relieved to report that this book does not have any life lessons, except perhaps for the oldy but goody that you should be grateful for what you have, especially something we take for granted, political freedom. Bush may have been bad, but let's face it, he was no Trujillo. I think that our own complaints sound very tinny and small next to the brutality in this book.

Live your life, speak your mind, and maybe you can write a book like this someday, my love.

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