The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a 335 page literary/historical fiction set in three major places–the Dominican Republic, New York, and New Jersey. It was published by Riverhead Books in 2007. I listened to the audiobook version (my first audiobook!).

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao coverThe story follows three character POVs–Yunior, a player of women (including Oscar’s sister), Lola (Oscar’s sister), and Beli (Oscar and Lola’s mom). It explores each character’s rebelliousness and trials/tribulations relating to love and being an outcast.

Oscar is an overweight nerd who just doesn’t fit in and can’t get laid. The book serves as a way to explore that thought through the people in Oscar’s life. Yunior’s commentary especially lends some analysis and deeper thoughts on Oscar’s loneliness. 

I loved Oscar’s personality. Quiet and nerdy and particular about everything. Telling his story through other peoples’ perspectives was a fantastic way to see Oscar without getting in his head. His depressing loneliness and passion for literature made him relatable. His, and Diaz’s, many references to sci-fi/fantasy/cult literature lent the book some fun in light of his depressing personality. I’m really glad I’ve read Watchmen too, because the end would have totally ruined it! But that reference (and the others) really added to the emotional strength of the story.

I liked Lola and Beli’s parts a little less than Oscar’s, because they felt almost like straight history in parts–though I didn’t realize the novel was considered a historical fiction before starting it. Learning about Trujillo was fun, but felt long-winded. The exploration of female characters in the novel was excellent, however, so that in part made up for the lengthy feel their parts gave the novel. It was nice to see strong females aside a male character whose main goal was falling in love and getting laid. It provided an excellent gender balance.

The intermixed Spanish/English/Spanglish was a great plot device and fun for general wordiness. I didn’t understand all of it, which I believe is just one of the downfalls of the audiobook. My general knowledge of Spanish helped, but there were quite a few phrases that went over my head. If I had been physically reading it, I would have looked them up. Still, I believe I got the important gist of the book without them, so who knows.

The story was excellent and the angst Oscar suffers is just so rich that I couldn’t help but love the book. I wouldn’t say it’s entered into my favorite novels, but it is definitely worth a read. Diaz’s writing style is pleasant enough that I’ve continued the audiobook to start listening to “Drown”–his collection of short stories. If you’re a Diaz fan, this book is a must. If you’ve never read Diaz before, this is a great starting point.

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