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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Those of you who have visited Novel Suggestions previously may have cottoned on by now that I am hugely drawn to books that open my eyes to far off lands and lifestyles. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao certainly fit the bill in that respect as I have to admit that prior to reading it I was more than a little ignorant of the people and politics of the Dominican Republic.

This winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction gives not only a good insight into the the beauty of the country, but also a taste of its cruel history. It is certainly a novel full of energy, romance and more than a touch of sadness.

Read on for a full review….

-- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao a Review by Des Greene --

Our protagonist Oscar is, not to put too fine a point on it, a nerd. He may be of Dominican descent but he possesses none of the stereotypical cool or streetwise character of his bloodline. He is however a dreamer and an incurable romantic; falling hopelessly in love at the drop of a hat and regardless of outcome. This is both his charm and his downfall.

The book is divided into sections covering Oscar’s own life, and the lives and past history of his extended family.

The initial section follows Oscar’s school life in New Jersey and in common with most of the story is narrated by Yunior (later revealed in the book as a college roommate of Oscar’s). It then moves on to tell, in her own words, the story of Oscar’s sister Lola and her unhappy relationship with their mother Beli. Lola after much disruption and rebellion, eventually ends up living in the Dominican Republic with her grandmother La Inca.

There are large sections of the book where Oscar does not feature at all, but it is always providing background and depth to his upbringing and character.

The central section of the book deals with the stories of La Inca, Beli and Abelard (Beli’s father) and also provides a lot of political background about life under the dictatorship of Trujillo and his henchmen. Oscar also visits the Dominican Republic in this section and here his real troubles begin.

Without giving the plot away too much, in a novel with so many storylines and characters, the final section has a lot of work to do in tying up loose ends and delivering its saddening climax. I think it achieves this in some style, and throughout the book the main narrator’s voice is down to earth, chatty and easy going. This makes the non-linear structure of the book a little easier to get along with.

There are however, a  few things which you may or may not like about this novel dependant on your taste. Firstly, there are sub notes throughout the book. I found these to be in keeping with the way in which the novel is narrated and provided essential background information on places and political characters I was previously unaware of (others might prefer these things to be woven into the story). Secondly, there are quite a number of Spanish phrases dropped into the text and no translations are provided. Having a smattering of Spanish, I personally liked this, as I often find non-English phrases followed by the translation more than a little annoying. Each to their own, but at least now you know in advance. My last point is that there are a couple of slightly super-natural occurrences in the book; I think some people may find this slightly off putting in what is otherwise a distinctly worldly novel.

I enjoyed the obvious amount of thought and care that have not only gone into the storyline but also into the novel’s layout and different perspectives. It can at times appear disjointed, and to some extent at the end I was left pondering over what exactly I had just read. But it is one of those books that I am quite looking forward to reading again, as I’m sure I would get even more out of it now that I know where it goes.

Already read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao? What did you think of it? Please post a comment below, Novel Suggestions is always keen to hear your opinions.

Novel Suggestions only provides fiction book reviews of books that we personally recommend. We don’t spend our valuable time writing reviews of books which we feel would be a waste of your valuable time!

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