Tag: Junot Díaz

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Although this book is considered to be Díaz’s debut novel, he published a collection of short stories a decade earlier.  Drown is considered by some to be semiautobiographical; in 10 short stories, Yunior (also our narrator in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) relates the journey of his immigrant family from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey.

This post does contain spoilers.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Culture and Language

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is steeped in the culture and history of the Dominican Republic, so much so that it includes dozens of footnotes to explain historical references, specifically to the era of its dictator Rafael Trujillo.  I’ve rarely read a novel that included footnotes and one would think these would be helpful. Unfortunately, the few I read were so long that I nearly forgot the storyline while reading the footnote.  Also, in the Kindle version, the footnote numbers were not very noticeable and I missed the bulk of them, not seeing them until the end of the book, at which time they were totally useless.

Díaz mingles English with Spanish, Spanglish, and slang continually throughout the book, with no attempts to translate for the reader.  If you come from a Latin American culture or know Spanish, this probably wasn’t an issue, but for me, it was a huge drawback.   I could glean very little from the context and my Kindle version didn’t translate or couldn’t find most of the words I asked for, so I finally gave up and just skimmed over those sections.  Yes, I could have Googled for translations, but the time that would have taken would have been astronomical.

Wondrous Descriptions

As Roberta noted in her Writer’s Review, Díaz created vibrant images.  He brought alive the people and locations of his novel.  Díaz described the Dominican tyrant Trujillo as the

portly, sadistic, pig-eyed mulato who bleached his skin, wore platform shoes, and had a fondness for Napoleon-era haberdashery.

With a description like this, who needs a picture?

Unfortunately, vibrant word images were not enough to make me care about the characters in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, especially the main male characters, Oscar and Yunior (the narrator).  I felt that the story would have been stronger if the main character had been Oscar’s mother, Belicia.  In an extended flashback, we learn Belicia’s tragic history in the Dominican Republic, but her story essentially ends when she leaves her homeland in her mid-teens, immigrating to New Jersey.  How she overcame her heartbreak, the obstacles she faced in America, could have been more compelling than Oscar’s continual quest to get laid.  While I felt sorry for Oscar in many ways, I felt like a good dose of antidepressants and a personal trainer would have gone a long ways to improve Oscar’s life.  It was difficult to feel sympathy for a middle-class nerd from New Jersey after the flashback to Abelard, Oscar’s grandfather, who ran afoul with Trujillo, was imprisoned and brutally tortured and, in the end, lost everything – home, family, fortune, businesses, and eventually his life.

Not My Cup Of Tea

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao had been on my “want to read” list for quite some time, ever since a friend mentioned how much she loved it, so I was looking forward to reading it. My friend’s taste, though, tends to be a bit different than mine and this book is one glaring example.  While I loved the writing itself – in places it was lyrical and evocative – I didn’t care for the style, the mixture of Spanish and slang, and I didn’t care at all about the main character Oscar.

Several of the novels we’ve read during this challenge have led me to further explore other books by the same author.  In fact, I am currently reading two such books – Us by David Nicholls (One Day, book #92) and Rules of Prey by John Sandford (Easy Prey, book #86) – and I have The Bourne Legacy by Eric Van Lustbader (The Bourne Betrayal, book #71) on my nightstand to start next.  I’m sorry to say that I won’t be looking for any other Junot Díaz books to add to that list.

Have you read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 69. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013) – Discussion begins January 9, 2018
Literary fiction, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Time to discuss The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz from a writer’s perspective. This review is going to be a bit more free flowing than previous ones have been.

This post contains spoilers.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Positive

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, along with many other major awards. It is “Important Literature,” with a capital I.

Parts of the novel do deserve the “Important” label. For example, it deals with serious topics such as political corruption, the abuse of women, and culture of the Dominican Republic. The author delves deeply into Dominican history and uses realistic slang, which flavors the text perfectly. The setting is also well developed and enlightening.

 The writing often shines.  When he describes a neighbor, he says,

… a thirty-something postal employee who wore red on her lips and walked like she had a bell for an ass …

He has created a vibrant image with just a few words. Beginning writers could learn a lot from his descriptions.

Public domain photograph of Santo Domingo from Wikipedia

The Negative

On the other hand, Junot distances the reader from main character Oscar Wao through his use of a remote narrator. At first we don’t even know who the narrator is. The voice who tells us about Oscar’s life sounds like an old uncle reminiscing, and it doesn’t feel engaged or immediate. Later we learn the narrator is Yunior, Oscar’s sister’s boyfriend. He isn’t even a member of Oscar’s family.

The distance makes the story unfold like we’re watching the action through a camera lens run by someone with an unsteady hand. For a time the lens focuses tightly on Oscar, and the reader only gets glimpses of the real story in the background. When the lens widens a bit, the surroundings finally become clearer.

If you are taken with Oscar’s story, then this camera work is fine. But Oscar’s story is often not compelling. To me, the title of the book should have been The Nonexistent Sex Life of Oscar Wao. I would have been more engaged if the framing story spent time on something more substantial than whether or not Wao ever has intimate relations with a woman.

In fact, sex is a central thread throughout. Chapter three reveals that unlike Oscar, Oscar’s mother had a lot of sex, but with really bad consequences.

As Oscar’s sister Lola says,

One thing you can count on in Santo Domingo. Not the lights, not the law.
Sex.
That never goes away.

And sex is a really dangerous thing. That pretty much sums up the book.

The Bottom Line

Oscar Wao never made me think, “Wow.” Instead I thought, here’s an immensely talented writer working with some great material, but why didn’t he take it to a higher level?

 

Have you read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 69. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013) – Discussion begins January 9, 2018
Literary fiction, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014

#BestsellerCode100: Number 70. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, 70. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz.

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, along with many other major awards.

Summary:  We follow the story of Oscar Wao, a young man of Dominican Republic descent who lives in New Jersey. All he wants to do is find love and write like J.R.R. Tolkien, but will his family’s curse destroy his dreams?

Have you read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 69. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013) – Discussion begins January 9, 2018
Literary fiction, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014

#BookBeginnings The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

We’re starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challengeThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, along with many other major awards.

Summary:  We follow the story of Oscar Wao, a young man of Dominican Republic descent who lives in New Jersey. All he wants to do is find love and write like J.R.R. Tolkien, but will his family’s curse destroy his dreams?

First Sentence:

They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that cracked open in the Antilles.

Discussion:

I have been playing catch up all week, while I put out fires and dealt with emergencies. Our last book, The Bourne Betrayal was a perfect choice for that kind of week. I’m not sure this one, which I can already tell is going to require some heavy lifting to read, is going to be as good a fit. Maybe things will be quieter next week and I’ll be able to concentrate on it.

And off I go again…

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Have you read anything by Junot Díaz? Have you read any of his short stories?

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