After reading some of the reviews on Goodreads, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. But I’m glad I did. I loved Diaz’s eloquent language, his authentic street voice and his engrossing storytelling. His style of writing (interspersing Spanish dialogue and phrases, along with footnotes relating to the historical events taking place throughout the story) is not for everyone, but I found it engaging. I’m sure that knowledge of Spanish would have added another dimension to the story, but NOT knowing Spanish didn’t make the narrative less enjoyable. I was able to infer what he was trying to impart from the context, and the footnotes provided valuable historical references (although sometimes it was a bit TOO much information). This technique really pulled me in and gave me more information to better understand the thoughts, actions and motivations of the characters.
Diaz also uses an interesting POV, telling the story NOT through Oscar’s voice, but through the voice of Yunior, his sister Lola’s ex-boyfriend. I found it a bit confusing at first, but once I got past that, the story began to fit together.
The plot revolves around Oscar, an introverted, overweight video gamer and anime freak who spends his life holed up in his room trying to write the next fantasy/sci-fi best-seller (in his own attempt to become the next Dominican Tolkien). He fills notebooks with stories that will never see the light of day, and despite his solitary existence and his total inability to connect with others, he longs to find his true love. As the narrator, Yunior takes you back and forth between the Dominican Republic and New Jersey, introducing you to Oscar’s extended family, many of whom came of age during the violent regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo.
What’s so wondrous, you ask, about a life led by an odd, awkward fellow like Oscar? It’s that he manages to evade the Dominican curse–the fuku (the Curse and Doom of the New World) for as long as he does. It’s the curse that has been passed down through Oscar’s family, especially those who were victimized under Trujillo’s regime. And, as hard as Oscar tries to make his dreams come true, the power of the curse is so strong that, in the end, he just can’t beat it.
As a side note: I’m a long-time NJ resident and the parent of a Rutgers grad; I found myself absorbed in many of the descriptions of local scenes. Diaz transported this Jersey girl back ‘home’ through his rich depictions of life in New Brunswick and Paterson.
I’m so glad that I gave this book a chance. Diaz is a brilliant writer and his book is definitely one of my favorite reads of this year.
Reviewed by Denise Mortensen, LFHS Library/Media Assistant