Tag Archives: Jonathan Davis

Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (4/5)

14 Sep

This was a title that I grabbed by chance at a used book sale. I’d heard of it so chances are it would be good, right? As it turns out, yes. And the reason I’d heard of it was that it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008. Sometimes I need to trust my snap decisions more!

Cover image via Goodreads

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Summary from Goodreads:

Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukú-the curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.

I went into this book blind and it was a great way to do it. I had no idea what to expect of the book and wasn’t even aware it had won the Pulitzer until later. I picked it at the time because it was available on Overdrive without a hold. I was blown away. I really cared about Oscar, Lola, and Beli and I loved the voice Díaz wrote with. I’m really tempted to read more of his books but I’ll save that for a summer full of bad books when I need a pick-me-up.

Lola was the most realistic character to me. Everyone else seemed to have something a bit unbelievable about them, but Lola seemed like someone I might have known in high school. I loved the way she showed she cared about her brother even when she was fighting with her mother. I thought she was really fierce, independent, and brave. I wanted good things for her the entire book.

Beli was the most interesting person in the book. Her background was interesting and revealed at a good pace. She seemed so angry at first and then when you learned about her losses, she was someone I pitied. In the end, I still disliked her only because I sympathized most with Lola and I felt she was a bit overly harsh on Lola compared to Oscar.

Oscar’s nerdy obsessions were very relatable for me. I loved The Lord of the Rings in middle school and always wanted to be a writer. I didn’t have any luck with guys until high school when my friends starting dating in middle school. It felt awful and I can remember my feelings being a lot like Oscar’s in his high school years.

Junot Diaz
Image via NPR

I liked Oscar’s story during college best. Finding out Yunior was the narrator was fun and having Yunior share his life with Oscar was even better. I wanted to be mad at Yunior for how he treated Oscar but I think I would have felt similarly. I felt bad for Oscar when he fell into his depression, to be sure, but I thought his years in college said a lot about him and I enjoyed reading that part.

As much as I liked Beli’s back story, I didn’t like the section of the book focused on her. I don’t think it added as much to Oscar’s story and it seemed like the focus of the book should be on Oscar only because of the title. I would have liked to see a bit more time on him, not just building the characters around him. Sure, the ending might not have been as impactful, but I think Beli’s story could have been at least shortened.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Jonathan Davis. I thought Davis was amazing. He did great accents for the characters and he nailed the Spanish sections of the book. La Inca was sassy when she needed to be and Lola yelled when needed. I was worried about a man bringing the right emotion to these female characters but he really nailed it.

I think the wondrous thing about Oscar’s life is how he chose to end it. It’s fairly clear that he knew his actions were going to get him killed in the end. I think the fact he chose to end his life for a prostitute he didn’t know that well says a lot about him. He was very honorable, as much as it pained him at times. And he placed a lot of value on truth and the beauty of life. No one else in his life seemed to understand this.

Writer’s Takeaway: Flipping through my copy, it seems Díaz was with formatting. I could sense this a little in listening to it. It seemed there were some sudden jumps and it was a little hard to follow how the sections were broken up. Looking at it now, the lack of quotation marks probably would have driven me crazy. Some readers might have been deterred because of the style, even if the story is amazing.

I really enjoyed this book and I completely understand why it earned the accolades it did. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz | Zeitgeist Reviews