The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The beginning of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is laced with obscenities and repeated use of the “N” word. The language is appropriate for the characters and gives the novel a great tension, but I mention it because if you listen to the audio version you should choose the time and place carefully. Junot Diaz also has a tendency in the beginning to repeat himself as he describes how nerdy Oscar Wao was and as he explains the fuku (curse) that affected him throughout his life. It took me some time to get used Diaz's writing, but once I did, I loved it and thought this was a fabulous book.
The story is mainly about Oscar, who is the overweight, nerdy son of Beli, a single Dominican woman now living in America. He lives in Paterson, NJ and attends Don Bosco high school, a catholic prep school. The novel also covers Beli's life and the life of Lola, Oscar's sister. The book is set in New Jersey and in The Dominican Republic.
Here are some, but not all, of the reasons I loved this book:
1. The characters are real and intriguing. I could feel their emotions and understand the way they thought. Beli has issues with the way she raises her children, but her background explains why. Her character, like all the others, is true to itself.
2. The language is intense and brutal while describing people who live in brutal situations. As I mentioned previously there is tension in the writing, a tension that reflects the lives of the characters perfectly.
3. The book shows life in the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo, the brutal dictator who ruled for thirty years with a ruthless secret police whose reach extended beyond the borders of that nation, even into America.
4. I liked the inclusion of a curse over the family and the respect given that belief.
5. Spanish words and phrases are used throughout. I'm not bilingual, but I had no trouble understanding what was going on because the context was carefully constructed. The words gave the story authenticity.
6. The problems faced by the characters range from ones most readers can identify with, such as adolescent desire, to brutal, terrifying predicaments, such as torture, most readers will never see. The author weaves back and forth between these issues with equal emphasis.
7. Also, I enjoy books that are set in northern New Jersey, because I grew up there. It's one of the reasons I loved American Pastoral by Philip Roth.
Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions
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