Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Diaz
by Junot Diaz

“If you ask me I don’t think there are any such things as curses.

I think there is only life. That’s enough.”

All right. Hold up, wait a minute. This book was knock it out of the park, hit me with another, hot diggity damn, AH-MAZ-ING. Amazing.

I’ve never read any Junot Diaz, but this book had a lot of hype with a capital H. While I was abroad my boyfriend was scanning its pages whenever we had down time and was absolutely raving about it. So, the novel had a lot of high expectations to live up to. This book has been hanging out in my book closet (the place I put the books I have yet to read – I amass huge amounts of books and add them to my queue. I have a problem) for quite some time. I would say almost a year. I bought it a while ago, hearing good things about it, but never got around to reading it. But once I did, I am happy to report it blew away my expectations.

I’m not really sure what I thought this book was about it, but it turned out to be nothing like what I imagined. The story follows Oscar de Leon, an intelligent, sweet, overweight nerd living in New Jersey with all the woes that comes with being a male of Dominican descent with no game. But the story only starts with our main protagonist. The novel interweaves the life of Oscar’s family, including his tough as nails mother Beli and sister Lola, his aunt still in the DR, and all their pasts as well as their relationships with the Dominican Republic. The story centers around the idea of fukú; what the novel declares as “generally a curse or doom of some kind.” It claims that everyone has a fukú story; that superstition is part of the culture and is intimately entwined with the fate of the de Leon/Cabral family.

My favorite thing about the novel was the tone. Diaz’s narrator is unlike any I have ever read before. It sounds like just a dude, a friend of yours maybe, who is sitting down and telling you this story about a family he used to know. It’s an utterly laid-back, openly communicative tone. And he layers in so much pop culture and references and history that it seems perfectly natural. Reading the book is more like having a really one sided conversation than reading at all. The blend of nerd-dom references (from LOTR to Dungeons and Dragons) mixed with lengthy footnotes and asides about DR culture and history made it unlike any other reading experience I have ever had before.

It’s a great book. It has a great story, and a stunning format in which the tale is told. Diaz is a truly, truly gifted writer. He’s brilliant and challenging. There’s a lot of Spanish in the book too, which forced me to get off my lazy butt and actually look some stuff up, learn something new to get in on the jokes. I loved the book and recommend it with the highest honors.

“Because no matter what you believe, fukú believes in you.”

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