2008: 5. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

“They say it came 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 was cracked open in the Antilles.”

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

This book was one of Entertainment Weekly’s “Best Books”, which sounds like damning with faint praise, but the magazine actually has a decent selection of books - the reviews are brief, but of decent quality.  And so I sought this out on EW’s recommendation, and was not disappointed.   My reaction to the novel is a little complex - I hated the plot, but I loved the writing.  To be more precise, I didn’t hate the plot, it just wasn’t what I was expecting - I thought this would be a bildungsroman of a Latino nerd growing up in the ghetto.  And it was, sort of, but its really more the story of being Dominican in America, and growing up and outsider, and Oscar was sort of less central than I’d expected, and his story was not the immigrant makes good tale I thought it would be - that was more his sister’s story.  Which makes the book better, in a way that what I had been thinking it would be - more complex and unexpected, but it somehow threw me off guard the whole time I was reading - I kept expecting it to go differently than it did.*  Which is good, of course, but I found it somehow unsettling.  Which is maybe a thing about storytelling? That different cultures tell stories in different ways** and I shouldn’t expect things to go the way I expect in my closed Anglo mind.  Which is actually quite awesome, and now I think that the act of blogging made me appreciate the book even more.  And I was already planning on writing a whole thing about how awesome immigration is, and how each culture that comes to America and becomes part of the cultural fabric enriches our way of thinking before I sat down, and talk about how the way Diaz writes and what he wrote about expanded my horizons a little bit.  So I guess what I’m saying is that this book made me think differently about life a bit, and understand another culture a little bit, and I, accordingly, recommend it quite highly.


Recommended for:  Latino nerds and Dominican exiles, and also people who are not those things but want to experience in a small way those two things.  


* At least I was, for once, at least bright enough to read the foreshadowing on the wall, and not be totally blindsided by the sad ending (this is not really a spoiler - the novel is titled the “brief” wondrous life of Oscar Wao, though it did take me like half the book to catch on as to where it was going, and gird my loins against it), which saved me from devastation. 


**oooh which reminds me of Louise Erdritch’s Love Medicine, a book I didn’t like, but appreciated for that aspect 


Date/Place Completed: 1/15/08; D.C.

Categories: Fiction, Library Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017