The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

I'm really not sure what I can say about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I'm not even 100% sure I actually enjoyed it.


It's the story of several generations of a Dominican family and the supposed curse that lingers around them from the time of the Dominican dictator Trujillo. Chronologically, it begins in the Dominican Republic and ends in New York, where the titular Oscar goes to college, an SFF nerd with precisely zero luck in his love life.


It's pretty clear that Oscar Wao is A Good Book, even A Serious Book, though the narrative voice is spirited, informal, laden with footnotes and scatterings of Spanish (I don't speak Spanish, so that was tricky). It's doing a lot of thinking about Themes: about diaspora and culture and power and love and other things I haven't quite sorted out in my head yet. It's also quite powerful emotionally, especially the ending, although again I haven't got my head around that yet.


There's a but behind all of this, though I suspect that it's nothing more than "but it wasn't quite my cup of tea". There's a good deal of sex in the book, plenty of swearing and internalised misogyny: Oscar Wao is violent in that respect, uncompromisingly pragmatic about what it's like to live in a dictatorship and uncompromising, too, when it comes to human nature. There are no heroes here, none of the Frodos or Luke Skywalkers Oscar idolises; just people trying for the most part to stay out of trouble. I guess that's indirectly another "but", though: I occasionally felt the book was unfair to nerdhood everywhere. Yes, there's nothing intrinsically good about nerds, but neither is there anything intrinsically bad. There are bitter nerds like Oscar, but there are also kind ones, accepting ones, ones who even want to go out with other nerds. (I know, right?! </sarcasm>) Knowing your Tolkien mythology does not automatically make you irredeemable to normal society, and I think occasionally Diaz loses sight of that.


A good read, though. I don't know that I'd read it again, but worth the time.