The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Junot Diaz

Aug 2, 2014 review (read between Jul 27, 2014 – Aug 2, 2014)

1st reading read review on Goodreads

I picked up The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz because I had previously read This Is How You Lose Her by the same author. I thought it was decent at best, but Wao was supposed to be Diaz’s claim to fame, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

It’s a depressing book laced with grim humor at best. The book chronicles Osca’s life as well as the lives of every relevant member of Oscar’s family, and they’re all tragic. Being set primarily in the Dominican Republic under dictator Trujillo’s rule (thanks for the history lesson, Mister Diaz), I guess that’s to be expected, but tragedy seemed to permeate every chapter and every page. One of the main characters, Lola, muses at a particularly turbulent part of her life, “Life, is what I say. Life.” And maybe at that point, that’s the best way to come to terms with it all.

The narrative can be confusing, due to the frequent narrative view changes coupled with the non-linear timeline the chapters follow. At least Cloud Atlas had some pattern to the way the chapters were ordered. Pacing is decent for the most part, but I felt that it was frequently interrupted by history lessons in the main text or in multi-page footnotes. On top of it all, the book throws in a bunch of (what I think is) Spanish into its narrative, sort of like how Nabokov’s Lolita does with French. In Lolita, however, I felt like I understood what was being conveyed in those non-english interjections; in Wao, more often than not I had no idea what the hell was going on. I’m fairly certain that I got enough out of them to not have missed anything critical, but it certainly made for some annoying moments.

It’s the tale of a gigantic nerd and his family full of tragic pasts and futures, with a side of Dominician Republic history, all jumbled together. Read if you’re in the mood for broken hearts, rapes, and murder. Yay.