Friday, March 13, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Author: Junot Diaz
Riverhead, 2007 
352 pages (Kindle edition)

I bought a Kindle 2 a couple of weeks ago and this was the first book I chose to read on it. I really had no idea what to expect. I just bought it because the description sounded interesting. 

The plot centers around a young man named Oscar. He lives in New Jersey but his family connections are in the Dominican Republic. Back during the years when Rafael Trujillo ran the country, Oscar's grandfather - a prominent physician/scholar/writer - got into a bit of trouble with the dictator. Since then, the family has had an amazing streak of bad luck. This bad luck was deemed a sort of curse that had been put on the family, and considering all that Oscar's mother went through in her life, it's amazing that Oscar was even born.

All of his life, Oscar's been . . . different. He's an intellectual, a sci-fi geek, with an amazing propensity toward fantasy. He's also obese, with a perception of himself that isn't anything like how the world sees him. He reminds me of the main character in Confederacy of Dunces. I feel sorry for him until he gets on my nerves - and then I no longer feel sorry for him and want the book to end. But each time I think we're wrapping things up, the narrator takes me in a new direction. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao seems neither. But for some reason I feel guilty for feeling that way.

My review falls short of the kudos this book probably deserves. I believe it is a first novel for the author, and if that's true, it's definitely a fine debut. This is the type of book they make you read and analyze in university classes. On the whole, it's interesting (I never knew all the historical stuff about Trujillo and the DR). It took me a long time to figure out "who" was telling the story (it's not Oscar) and I also had to work my way through (or ignore) many of the Spanish phrases and DR localisms. (I found out that the Kindle 2 dictionary doesn't recognize Spanish! English only.) 

Almost everything in the book is tragic, including the end to Oscar's brief life, which is foreshadowed even in the title so you know it's going to happen. The question is why, and if you read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, you'll find out.

Rating: 3.5 stars. 

As to the Kindle, I'm finding it to be really easy to use. Just about everyday there's some type of free book to download, and I've been taking them even though they're not my usual genre. So, don't be surprised if you read some reviews of really stupid books on here soon. Oh, well.