The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

With this being my first real “book review”, let me just say it might take a couple for me to actually get the hang of what I  want to include in every single post. Since a good handful of my favorite books have already heard my words on Amazon, I figured I could include that, plus add a little more to it. Here is my Amazon review of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (J. Diaz):

“Let me begin my review by saying that I know/knew nothing about the hardships of the [Dominican Republic] people. This book was eye-opening in regards to the historical background it provided. Although I found the footnotes that Junot Diaz provided to be extremely lengthy, they were informative nonetheless. I find myself drawn to the stories of WW1 and WW2 Nazis, and this book paralleled that interest. How bizarre it is to hear the stories of the oppressive ruler Trujillo and the Secret Police. This is definitely an under-told story… One that is unfairly left out of history classes (at least mine). I walked away from this book with a different outlook on cultures outside of my own.
With that said, it is clear that I am not a person that has extensive knowledge of other cultures/languages (I have studied German for a few years, but that is all other than English). The integration of Spanish in this book was a little bit of a struggle for me. Although many of the singular words can be understood using context, I found myself looking up every single word. I wanted to understand the exact verbiage. Often, I was not able to translate. This definitely slowed the reading for me, and was not always worth that effort. Also, not only is this book glittered with Spanish, it also has frequent pops of “Nerd-isms”- talking often about several fandoms or their scenes. Luckily for me, I understood most of those.
The characters were very interesting, mostly well developed. I found myself wanting so much more about Lola… that would probably be my only complaint.
There is so much more to this book! Even the superstition in it was unexpected for me. The theories of the Fall, the family curse, the Mongoose, the man with no face! Even with all that, it was also littered with humor! All so interesting and compelling. This story is so well put together! It’s like a puzzle that has so many pieces that Diaz was able to assemble in the most cohesive and interesting story. Seriously, this dude has talent.

I suggest this book to you if you had not read it. It’s so worth it.

PS- Favorite line was when the doctor told Trujillo that his [the doctors] daughters are beautiful for girls with mustaches! I laughed out loud.”

 

I gave this book a 4/5 star review on Amazon due to the rough time I had with translations, and the lengthy footnotes. The story line itself was awesome! The story rolls from different angles, told by one narrator. You hear about Oscar’s tale of woes, Lola’s, their mother’s (Belicia) and Yunior (Lola’s S.O). The entire book boils down to 3 main ideas:

  1. Superstition (fuku)
  2. The telling of the DR people oppression
  3. A boy just trying to get his jiggy on

First, Diaz takes a good effort in the beginning of the book to explain the superstitious beliefs held by the DR people. He explains the fuku and it’s direct relation to the public. I went in knowing zip, and understood the basics enough to make it through this book. One of the themes of this book is that all the bad luck is caused by Abelard’s (Oscar’s grandfather) lies to their tyrannical president. Like, straight up, this dude told Trujillo his underage daughters grew mustaches so Trujillo wouldn’t want to rape them. See, it’s thought that Trujillo had powers beyond those you can imagine and he could curse you with those powers if you didn’t concede his every wish and desire (which included underage women), which is honestly despicable…. but LOL at the mustache comment.

Second, again I went into this book knowing nothing of the DR’s oppression by the tyrannical dictator Trujillo. Like, seriously???! How do we not hear about these evil people? I would compare his evil to Hitlers. The biggest differences are that Trujillo isn’t in any history books I read, and that his people feared his psychic abilities as well as his physical. Dude had midgets chew on the balls of his prisoners! Like, who thinks of that??? Obviously, he’s brutal.

Finally, this book’s most important theme is this Oscar kid is just trying to get himself LAID. Seriously, the entire book is about the dry-spell that is Oscar de Leon’s life. Growing up as an overweight, D&D nerd in the 80’s in the US did not help Oscar out at all. It’s cringe worthy at points. Not only that, but he is a balls-to-the-wall romancer, so when he finds a lady he likes, he smothers her. In other words- dude has zero chill.

Although this book is a little more difficult to read with it’s combination of Spanish jargon, it’s totally worth it. I rented my copy first from my local library, but I loved it so much I’m ordering my own copy. It’s a great read, truly. Diaz did a masterful job placing this odd puzzle together. I would highly recommend this book to someone that enjoys twisting stories with solid endings.

 

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