Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

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 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Waostrong 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.


lilolia review rating 4 stars great


TBR Chronicles #07

Recently, the movie version of Lisa Genova‘s novel Still Alice came out.  I am very interested in the story and only just came aug still aliceto know of Genova’s novels upon discovering the movie’s book beginnings.  So, before I watch the movie I’d like to read the book. (GoodReads)aug rework

I read an article on Forbes in which founders picked their best startup book and the one that caught my eye was Rework by Jason Fried & David Hanson.  I’m looking forward to this one as its blurb on GoodReads has it as a very different business book from the norm. (GoodReads)

aug this is how you lose herI’m just about done reading The Brief & Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz which I have deeply enjoyed.  One of this book’s characters is the protagonist of Diaz’s new book This Is How You Lose Her.  I will definitely be reading this one.  Keep an eye out for my review of Oscar to hear more about the awesome stuff of Junot Diaz. (GoodReads)aug nothing is true

Earlier this month the Guardian 1st Book Award announced the 2015 longlist and from it I have 3 picks I’m hoping to be able to read.  The first is Nothing is True & Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev which looks very interesting. aug shore(GoodReads)

The 2nd is The Shore by Sara Taylor which spans 200 years and follows a family from the past into an apocalyptic future.  I’m dying to see what it’s all about.  It has been compared to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas so that really sold me on it. (GoodReads)aug grief

The 3rd and final book is Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter.  A story about a family and their grief after losing their mom/wife.  This one just spoke to me personally and I do love Ted Hughs so hoping to read this one. (GoodReads)

See anything you fancy?  Read any of these? Share your thoughts with us.

TBR Chronicles #05

Last month (May) was a slow month for my TBR so I decided to wait until I had a post-worthy amount of books to talk about.  Over the years of writing this blog I’ve noticed that come mid-year my reading verve dies down a bit.  I have no idea why this happens but it’s a time when I tend to read slower than the rest of the year.  I’m in the southern hemisphere so it might have something to do with it being Winter.

On PhotographyI’ve been thinking a lot about photography recently.  More specifically about the theory side of it.  One of the books I featured on my A Photographer’s Theory Reading List post was On Photography by Susan Sontag.  A few people have mentioned this book really changed their perspective of the art of photography so this one makes the TBR list. (GoodReads)

I’ve read a couple of Louise Erdrich‘s novels and The Plague of Doves is next for me.  It is about the same family featured in The The Plague of DovesRound House which I enjoyed so I’m keen to revisit them.  I expect to enjoy this book as I have the others. (GoodReads)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain has been on my TBR for a while.  I consider myself quite introverted and so was drawn to the book.  I find the world can be a little too noisy for my liking sometimes so I’m intrigued as to what the book has to say. (GoodReads)

Juno Diaz has been on my radar for a while but I always seem to forget I want to read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Waosomething by him when I’m picking my next read.  I read an excerpt recently from The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao and found the writing so beautiful that I knew this would be the one. (GoodReads)

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldLast but not least is Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami.  Murakami is another author I’ve been dying to get into but I couldn’t figure out where best to start.  This post on Book Oblivion helped me decide to go with this one because it was recommended as the first one of his books dealing with the unconscious  to start off with.  (GoodReads)

Have you read any of these?  What did you think? Any other similar recommendations?


A Writer’s Fiction Reading List – A Study in Elements of Fiction Writing

This list of novels comes from the Warwick University reading list for The Practice of Fiction and the following novels will be helpful for the study of the elements of fiction writing.

For a closer look at Entrances, Openings, and Beginnings:  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (2000)

A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius : A Memoir Based on a True Story“Dave Eggers is a terrifically talented writer; don’t hold his cleverness against him. What to make of a book called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: Based on a True Story? For starters, there’s a good bit of staggering genius before you even get to the true story, including a preface, a list of “Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Book,” and a 20-page acknowledgements section complete with special mail-in offer, flow chart of the book’s themes, and a lovely pen-and-ink drawing of a stapler (helpfully labeled “Here is a drawing of a stapler”).  But on to the true story. At the age of 22, Eggers became both an orphan and a “single mother” when his parents died within five months of one another of unrelated cancers. In the ensuing sibling division of labor, Dave is appointed unofficial guardian of his 8-year-old brother, Christopher. The two live together in semi-squalor, decaying food and sports equipment scattered about, while Eggers worries obsessively about child-welfare authorities, molesting babysitters, and his own health. His child-rearing strategy swings between making his brother’s upbringing manically fun and performing bizarre developmental experiments on him. (Case in point: his idea of suitable bedtime reading is John Hersey’s Hiroshima.)”

For a closer look at Shapes and Structures: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)

“Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story Gileadabout fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson’s beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows “even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order” (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life.”

For a closer look at People and Things: Austerlitz by W G Sebald (2001)

Austerlitz“In 1967, the narrator bumps into a man in the salle de pas perdus of Antwerp’s Central Station. Thus begins a long if intermittent acquaintance, during which he learns the life story of this stranger, retired architectural historian Jacques Austerlitz. Raised as Dafydd Elias by a strict Welsh Calvinist ministry family, it is only at school that Austerlitz learns his true name–and only years later, by a series of chance encounters, that he allows himself to discover the truth of his origins, as a Czech child spirited away from his mother and out of Nazi territory on the Kindertransport. He returns to confront the childhood traumas that have made him feel that “I must have made a mistake, and now I am living the wrong life.”

For a closer look at Places and Domains: I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal (1983)

“Sparkling with comic genius and narrative exuberance, I Served the King of England is a story of how the unbelievable came true. Its remarkable hero, Ditie, is a hotel waiter who I Served the King of Englandrises to become a millionaire and then loses it all again against the backdrop of events in Prague from the German invasion to the victory of Communism. Ditie’s fantastic journey intertwines the political and the personal in a narrative that both enlightens and entertains.”

For a closer look at Voices: Drown by Junot Diaz (1996)

Drown“This stunning collection of stories offers an unsentimental glimpse of life among the immigrants from the Dominican Republic–and other front-line reports on the ambivalent promise of the American dream–by an eloquent and original writer who describes more than physical dislocation in conveying the price that is paid for leaving culture and homeland behind.”

And finally, for a closer look at Endings, Finales, and Conclusions: Short Stories by Anton Chekhov

The Best Stories of Anton Chekhov is an unforgettable journey through the complexities of the human heart. Celebrated as one of the greatest short story writers of all time, The Best Stories of Anton ChekhovChekhov’s masterpieces are given the difinitive treatment by editor John Kulka in this edition.  Among the twelve stories included here are some of Chekhov’s most famous and celebrated “The Lady with the Dog,” “The Darling,” and “Peasants” as well as a few less familiar though equally accomplished masterpieces. All of the stories in this round-up reveal Chekhov as a master of storytelling.”