Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

 A few weeks ago, I posted the following request for book recommendations on facebook:

I have $25 to spend on frivolous (read: not school-related) books. I am looking for recommendations.

Parameters: no bodice-rippers, crimesploitation, "chick" lit (if the plot could be an episode of Sex and the City, I'm not interested), spaceships, unicorns, dragons (this includes tattoos), sentient beings that ~sparkle in the sunshine~, architecture, or railroads.

YA is okay if it's well-written. Same goes for speculative fiction (think Jasper Fforde). French language recommendations are always welcome. I also enjoy non-fiction of a sociological bent.

A lot of my friends are avid book readers, so I knew that they should come up with a few good ones. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was mentioned by several people, so I decided to check it out of the library on my next visit.

Overall, this book was very good. I'm a sucker for modern coming-of-age stories, especially those involving the hopelessly awkward, so Oscar Wao was a character/novel after my own heart. Set in New Jersey and the Dominican Republic, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao discusses the family's fuku, or curse, that had been set upon them by Trujillo, the brutal, American-backed dictator who terrorized the DR's inhabitants from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. The fuku follows the family from the DR to New Jersey, ultimately afflicting Oscar, the youngest son, who is fat, nerdy, and terminally virginal.

Told from the perspective of multiple family members and set in a variety of times and places, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao paints an elegant yet terrifying account of the long-lasting effects of brutal, repressive governments and the immigrant experience. Diaz did an excellent job highlighting the differing experiences of the characters, deftly revealing the role that intergenerational trauma plays in current relationships. I also learned several Spanish words that probably shouldn't be used in polite company.

My only complaint about the book is that the pacing was uneven, making a few parts in the middle something of a slog to get through. Otherwise, it's a great read. 4 out of 5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. Heh I liked that you asked for recommendations to buy but borrowed instead :) Always a good choice. Interesting I've always ignored this one but I do enjoy reading more about the effects of dictatorships and etc so I may enjoy this. Awkward coming-of-age stories, however, I like less...