Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Author: Junot Diaz
Number of Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction
Where I Got It: Library

In this Pulitzer Prize winner, author Junot Diaz focuses on Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd who 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.

It's really hard to do this book justice with just a mere description of the summary. The center of the story is about Oscar and how he struggles with growing up and being so very very different from his peers. It's a coming-of-age story. But beneath that are so many other layers. There is the classic rebellious daughter vs. typical Latin American mother conflict and the fights that ensue between them. There is the coming-of-age story of Oscar's mother and her struggle to fit in despite being Oscar's exact opposite. There is also the story of the Dominican Republic as a country trying to survive under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.

I think what hit me the most about it is the language of the book. Diaz chooses to write some of the book in first person, using English and Spanish slang and some Spanglish, then some other parts in third person but the diction and tone is what really develops each of the characters. It's not so much the words, but more the way the words flow together that really puts you inside the book and inside the lives of these characters. I was completely drawn in and felt pain when the characters were hurt and happiness when they triumphed.

At first glance, the book seems like it will just be a story about a nerdy kid trying to make it through the awkward adolescent stage of life but this couldn't be farther from the truth. These characters won't be forgotten anytime soon and despite sounding a bit depressing, there is an untraditionally optimistic ending that left a smile on my face.

I would definitely recommend this book, but it is fairly tough to get through. The point of view changes around pretty dramatically and at times I had to ask myself "Who are we talking about?" before realizing that the chapter was now the mother's story or the sister's boyfriend's story or whatever. The book forces you to slow down a little as the language is a little bit complex to follow. But it's so worth it in the end.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Coming Up Next: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
In 1959, Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist, takes his four young daughters, his wife, and his mission to the Belgian Congo -- a place, he is sure, where he can save needy souls. But the seeds they plant bloom in tragic ways within this complex culture. Set against one of the most dramatic political events of the twentieth century -- the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium and its devastating consequences -- here is New York Times-bestselling author Barbara Kingslover's beautiful, heartbreaking, and unforgettable epic that chronicles the disintegration of family and a nation. (from Google Books)

I read The Poisonwood Bible in high school but don't really remember it. A friend of mine randomly told me it's one of her alltime faves and because she's had such great recommendations in the past I decided to give it another shot.

And now time for some audio books...

My Life in France by Julia Child: Terrible audio book. I didn't even make it through to the end. The narrator's voice was good but I felt really lost the whole time, especially when she randomly started speaking in French. Two thumbs down.

The Soloist by Steve Lopez: Incredible story and a great audio book. The narrator's voice was excellent and the story itself was amazing. It's the true story of LA Times columnist Steve Lopez who discovers a homeless man playing violin in the streets of downtown LA. After researching further, he discovers this man was an extremely accomplished musician who spent time at Juilliard before dropping out. Lopez works with the man to get him back on his feet and it's a really great story. It's also a movie with Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. that I have on my Netflix. Two thumbs up.

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