Friday, May 14, 2010

book club: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The backstory: After mixed reactions to April's pick, Olive Kitteridge (recap), the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner, we chose The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize. Our intention is not to read all of the Pulitzer winners, but we did make the choice the day the 2010 winners were announced. One of the members read Oscar Wao years ago and enjoyed it. It also won the 2008 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

The basics: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is essentially the story of Oscar Wao, a young, obese, comic book-loving nerd who is the son of Dominican immigrants. The book is divided into large sections, and if Oscar weren't the title character, I'm not sure I would call him the main character. The narrator is not a family member, but different sections tell the stories of Oscar's mother, his grandparents and his sister.

The verdict: While I was reading it, I loved this book. Diaz's writing is fresh, young and gripping. It won't please everyone. The language is sometimes vulgar, as the language of young men is. Diaz also sprinkles a fair amount of Spanish vernacular with no English translation. My meager Spanish knowledge got me pretty far, but it certainly speaks to Oscar, who like so many immigrants, straddles the line between Dominican and U.S. culture and doesn't quite fit either place. The New Jersey Dominican immigrant experience shines in this novel.  Oscar Wao isn't a linear narrative. The reader doesn't know who the narrator is until almost the half-way point. The time jumps around to give a picture of Oscar and his family. Diaz is a gifted writer, and I was mesmerized with the writing and the story while I read it. When I finished it, though, I was left somewhat unsatisfied. The reading experience was wonderful, and I would recommend this book. I will eagerly await the next book by Junot Diaz, but I won't be placing this novel on my best of the year list.

Overall: It's a fantastic, fresh novel, and I couldn't put it down, but the writing outshone the characters. The writing will stick with me, but I don't think Oscar will.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: 352 pages
Publication date: September 2007 (It's out in paperback now)
Source: I bought it for my Kindle.

Have you read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao? What did you think about it?

Next month: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
Prep: A Novel

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1 comment:

  1. Great review. I don't know if Oscar will stay with me but everything he and his family went through will.


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