Title- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Author- Junot Diaz
Genre- Literary fiction
Length- 335 pages
Synopsis (Goodreads)- Things have never been easy for Oscar. A ghetto nerd living with his Dominican-American family in New Jersey, he’s disastrously overweight, keeps falling hopelessly in love and dreams of becoming the next Tolkien. Meanwhile his punk sister Lola wants to run away, and his resolute mother Beli can’t seem to let either of them go.
Moving across generations and continents, from Beli’s tragic past in the Dominican Republic to struggles and dreams in suburban America, this is the wondrous story of Oscar, his family and their search for love and belonging.
Review- This is another book that is difficult to rate.
Firstly, I think the title, cover, and synopsis are pretty misleading.
The title suggests that this book is basically all about Oscar, it’s not. Maybe a quarter of the book is directly about Oscar, the rest is about his family, so indirectly about him in that sense, but you learn a lot more about other characters than you ever do about Oscar. The title also suggests that Oscar has a particularly interesting and good life, he doesn’t.
There are obviously other covers but the one above is the one I have. The cover suggests that the book is about Oscar as a child, and it was, for about 3 pages, then suddenly he’s in college. There is no part of the book that sounds anything like what is depicted on the cover.
The synopsis is equally misleading and to me certainly reads as if Oscar, and his sister are children, children are typically the ones that want to run away in books, adults just leave. The synopsis at least mentions the rest of his family but to me it still suggests that the book is mostly about Oscar!
The actual story, is reasonably interesting, more the parts about the other family members than those about Oscar though. However, despite supposedly going through the history of the family, one major family member only gets a passing mention, it’s odd, others have about a hundred pages dedicated to them. Also, it might be realistic but some of the violence I felt was unnecessarily graphic, and there was no warning going into the book.
The writing is an issue. There was a lot of Spanish in this, and not knowing Spanish, I feel like I missed out on things. I googled a few words and sometimes my guesses as to their meaning were right, but other times they were completely wrong. It’s hard to get into a book when a bunch of it is written in a language you don’t speak. The lack of warning about the Spanish content anywhere on the back cover etc was also very annoying.
There were a lot of footnotes in this book and some of them are almost a full page of tiny writing. Their inclusion made things very disjointed, you were constantly pulled out of the actual story to be told about obscure things. Much of what was in the footnotes really wasn’t needed for the story either. What was needed should have somehow been included into the main story properly, the book would be much better that way. The footnotes were mostly about the history of the Dominican Republic and I think to really enjoy this book you need to have some basic knowledge of this history already, or be very interested in it. It also wasn’t clear who the narrator was until about half way through the book which bothered me a little.
This book could have been great, some of the characters were really interesting but the Spanish and footnotes were annoying. It was a chore to get through this at times. If you don’t know at least basic Spanish, or aren’t happy to constantly google things while reading, then I wouldn’t recommend this.
Has anyone else read it? What did you think?