Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Review - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Having enjoyed Junot Diaz' Drown (his first collection of stories), I plowed through his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books [Penguin], 2007, 335 pages, 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner) in a matter of days, and finished it over the weekend.

Some of the same comments that I had about his first book would still be applicable here. There are times when Diaz uses Spanish words, phrases, or whole sentences, and since I don't read Spanish, I am sure I am missing certain nuances (at least), or whole pieces of context. This generally falls into the category of minor annoyance, but is something that is definitely a distraction from time to time. When you can't understand everything that is there for you to read, it is hard not to feel like you are missing something. That being said, you do become used to it after a while.

I would recommend this novel. It starts off a little slow, but moves along well enough to keep your interest. I found that it picked up speed as it went along, and by the last third or so of the book, I was very anxious to keep going and get to the end. Given the title and the set up, it was not a question of what the ending would be, but how you would get there. This is an accomplishment for the author; despite telling you what you will find when you get to the destination, you still want to go along for the ride.

The title character is a fat, dorky kid who loves science fiction and fantasy, and wants to be a writer - the Dominican Tolkien. He also is prone to falling for girls, none of whom fall for him. There were a lot of references to things in the books that Oscar liked. I got all the Tolkien references and some of the others (ok, insert "dorky" joke here), but didn't get all of them. Once again, like the Spanish language issue, I'm sure I missed some nuances with the references that went over my head. But if the subtlety of the specifics evaded me, I got the gist of the point.

This is a story about the immigrant experience as well as life in a third world country. It is a story of mothers and children and spouses and family. Of successes and failures. Love and vengeance. You hope against hope for the protagonist, knowing (in general terms at least) how it is going to end. Getting to that end is a very enjoyable journey. The best book (of only a few) that I have read so far this year.

4 stars out of 5.

No comments:

Post a Comment