Review – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Juno Díaz
“Ybón, as Recorded by Oscar:
I never wanted to come back to Santo Domingo. But after I was let go from jail I had trouble paying back the people I owed, and my mother was sick, and so I just came back.
It was hard at first. Once you’ve been fuera, Santo Domingo is the smallest place in the world. But if I’ve learned anything in my travles it’s that aperson can get used to anything. Even Santo Domingo.”
This books is one of those that you can’t get away from; it’s everywhere, it’s won tons of awards, Junot Díaz has been on the Colbert Report, there is buzz for it all the way around the world. And I’ve been drawn to it from the beginning. I’m a sucker for multicultural, multilingual books like this, and to top it off, it’s a “sweeping family drama” in its own way. I’ve rarely met a Sweeping Family Drama that I didn’t like, trust me. So did it live up to its expectations? Was it everything I had hoped it would be?
Yes, and no. What impressed me most about Díaz’s novel was the fact that this was more the story of Santo Domingo and the Cabral family than only Oscar Wao. I wasn’t expecting it and it made the novel that much stronger. I was also impressed with the narration choice Díaz made. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be a surprise, that maybe I just missed it while I was reading, but when I finally figured out who it was, I kept going back to the beginning and reading things with this great new perspective on them. The story alternates between Oscar, his grandfather, his mother and his runaway sister Lola. I loved the combination of English and Spanish, but it was a lot of slang that I was unfamiliar with. Not that that’s a bad thing, I don’t mind learning new words.
I’m having trouble reviewing this one. On one hand, it was a great novel. On the other hand, it annoyed me while I was reading it. I think it was too much. It was a little too much slang, a little too many end notes, but in the end, too little Oscar. I was in love with it until the middle, when it slowed down, and I was in love with it again at the end. Some people disagree with me and say that Díaz’s storyline about the family in Santo Domingo is the strongest, but I think Oscar should have been focused on more. Some reviewers have said “Change the title.” I say no, we should have known Oscar more, should have understood him more. To a certain extent, I think he was too one dimensional. Everyone around him has this incredible story, and incredible depth, but not Oscar. Maybe that was because of the narrator. Maybe that was the point.
Is Oscar’s life wondrous? Yes. Plagued by the fukú, a curse supposedly brought on his family by the Trujillo dictatorship, there are surreal and wonderful moments in his short life. His history is astounding. The life of his sister, his friend, his love interests, it is all very worthy of the story written. So, would I recommend this book? Yes, definitely. I think it deserves the praise it got. Does it deserve the Pulitzer? Maybe. I’d have to have read all of the books nominated to really tell you that honestly.
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