The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz is a great book. It’s like nothing I’ve read before. A while back I came across a reading list for ‘The Practise of Fiction’ course at Warwick University which prescribes Díaz’s book Drown as a study for voices. I haven’t read Drown yet but Oscar Wao was exactly that to me – a study in voices. His is a strong and unique voice that I really enjoyed. All his characters had strong, different voices in the book. This novel switches between the different characters’ perspectives and stories and they are never introduced – you recognise them from their voices.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is about Oscar de Leon and his struggles as a ‘nerdy’ bookworm writer who spends most of his short life a virigin. It’s a kind of imperfect love story for many of the characters. But it is also about the ‘fuku’ or curse that hangs over his family members, past & present. It is set in the US and in the Dominican Republic of the present and the past. A large part of the book is about the Trujillo era in the Dominican Republic and albeit gruesome it was interesting and well written. I’ve mentioned in many of my reviews that books which take me to different places and show me different people and ways of being generally score highly with me and this one was definitely one of those.
There is a fair amount of Spanish throughout and a great deal of reference is made to sci fi and fantasy literature. I enjoyed both. I enjoy the sci fi and fantasy genre and the references were not lost on me, in fact I thought they brought humour to a story that is in part a dark one. I also thought the Spanish was great because it lends itself to understanding the characters better, it really added to the story for me. That said though, I do understand Spanish so how you’ll feel about it if you don’t understand the language I don’t know. However, you won’t miss out on anything if you don’t so not to worry. I read some reviews on GoodReads which pointed to the Spanish and the genre references as reasons why they disliked the book and I have to disagree with them. Díaz has said that he included the Spanish to give English readers a real feel for the immigrant experience and I would agree that it does take you further into the world of Oscar much better than if everything was in English. Also, Oscar himself is extremely well spoken so when everyone around him in his community is speaking with Spanish colloquialisms and you then hear Oscar’s choice of diction you really get an idea of how he must have been perceived by his own community. It all worked really well for me.
There are footnotes which I read at the end. Some people didn’t like this factor either. I read the story first which does not require footnote reading to enjoy and then read the footnotes after which I found quite interesting. I recommend reading them after finishing the story or not at all if you’re not interested.
All in all it was a great book and I’m looking forward to more from Díaz.