Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Oscar Wao is a Dominican-American. Sweet and romantic, he's also overweight and a nerd. And by nerd I mean the kind that is majorly into sci-fi, fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons, and the like - not just a casual fan. This of course does not help him with the ladies.

By the title of this book you would think the story would be told with Oscar as the narrator or at the very least, be all about him. I guess in a way it is. The narrator is actually a friend of Oscar's sister who becomes a friend of Oscar's as well. And the story gives the background for the curse that haunts Oscar and his family by switching between the stories of the people in his family... his sister Lola, his mother Beli, his grandfather Abelard. We even get a little of the narrator's own story as it relates to Oscar.

What was a bit shocking to me when I first started reading this book was the use of racial slurs and language that seemed a bit crass. Of course after a while, I became absorbed in the book and it no longer bothered me as it became a natural part of the story. Another thing to note is that the narrator (or author if you will) often throws in a sentence in Spanish throughout his story. Most of the time I could figure out what was being said (or at the very least the tone) given the context but it would have been helpful if I knew Spanish or had a Spanish-English dictionary.

The story itself was very good. Oscar is the boy in school who didn't have many friends and would develop intense crushes on one girl after another, never to actually "get the girl." He wanted to be better liked, to have more friends and also a girlfriend. But he could never figure out how to do it. But you don't stop cheering for him. That one of these girls will see the heart of gold that resides within the nerd. And you hope that he'll be able to break the family's curse and get his happy ending.

Next month: Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

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