Monday, September 28, 2009

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

Title:The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Author:Junot Diaz


Recommended?Absolutely! But expect to feel lost occasionally.

What I Have to Say: Reading this book was an interesting experience.
Imagine living in a foreign country where you don't speak the language. You're really excited about a movie coming out and finally it does, and you go to see it in a VO theatre, so that it will be in English and just subtitled in the foreign language. Well, it turns out that 1/4 of the movie is actually in that foreign language, and, of course, since you're in a country where the language is spoken, there are no English subtitles for you.
The movie is awesome and you totally love it, but at the same time you know that you definitely missed something since there was a good 1/4 of the movie that you didn't understand. You could just see what was happening.
Well, that's how I felt reading this book. I absolutely loved it; the narrator was hilarious and interesting and exciting. He had an absolutely depressing and devestating story to tell, and he just jumped right in as if it was any other normal ole everyday happy story.
Oscar Wao himself was a totally likable character that you couldn't help but love but for whom you also couldn't help but feel sorry. Sometimes I wished I could be there with the narrator, pushing him in the right direction, urging him to do things just slightly differently.
His sister and his mother, while slightly less developed characters, were also exciting to follow. They were both just a little bit more than the average Dominican woman. They both had just a little something extra to add to the table, and, in their own way, their stories were just as fascinating as that of Oscar.
But still, this said, I couldn't help but feel that I was missing some basic elementary knowledge needed to really fully understand everything going on.
First of all, there was a lot of Spanish used - phrases and words that I just didn't understand. I'm learning Spanish, but I'm not quite there yet. And massive amounts of Dominican history were referenced without ever actually being explain. Maybe it's just me, but I never took a class on Dominican history. I also never took a history class in which we learned about Dominican history. So did I know that the United States had occupied the Dominican Replublic more than once? No. Did I know who Trujillo was before starting this book? No. Did I have any clue why Trujillo was constantly referred to as the Failed Cattle Thief? No. (Do I now? No.)
Do I feel that knowledge on these subjects (and many more) would have contributed vastly to my enjoyment and understanding of this book?
The answer to this question is a whole hearted YES!!!!
I mean, I really feel like I should go take a class on the Dominican Republic (where I have actually been) and its history and then read the book all over again.
None of this changes the fact that this book was beautifully written and heart-warming and heart-wrenching.

Summary (direct to you from GoodReads):Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fuku - the curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.

Author Junot Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss. A true literary triumph, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao confirms Diaz as one of the best and most exciting voices of our time

1 comment:

Booklogged said...

Your description of the book being like a foreign movie you liked but didn't fully understand is fabulous. I have read books that left me feeling that way, but I never pinned down the feeling as well as you did. Marvelous!

This book has been on my TBR list for a long time. I'm really looking forward to reading it after your review.

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