The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Published: 2007

Genre: fiction

Length: 335 pages

Setting: Dominican Republic and New Jersey, present with flashbacks to the 1940s

Interest: I decided to start reading some award winning books for an online reading contest and because I’ve nearly finished the Time top 100 books of the century list (two left that I’m having a hard time tracking down at a library). The library had a list of Pulizter Prize winning books on its catalog page, and this was the first book on the last at my local library.

Summary: We follow the life of Oscar, his sister Lola, and their mother, originally from the Dominican Republic. Oscar is a fat, friendless geek who is as far from the stereotypical Dominican Republican male as possible, with the strong possibility of dying a virgin. Lola has always been the dutiful daughter, but she goes a little crazy for a boy, and her mother sends her to her family still in the Dominican Republic to shape up. While there, Lola learns about her mother’s history of going crazy for a boy during the reign of Trujillo. Oscar and Lola continue to visit their family in the summer. Eventually, Oscar finds a woman in the Dominican Republic that reciprocates his affection. Too bad she’s hooked up with the police chief who kills Oscar out of jealousy. At least he didn’t die a virgin.

Final thoughts: An odd book that I liked even more for all the geek references and analogies. We also got a lot of Dominican Republic history in footnotes to the story, which was an interesting style choice that I enjoyed. It took me most of the story to figure out who the narrator was (Yunior, who was the only non-family member to get his own chapter. That should have been a hint). The end was a bit metaphysical and confusing, but I still enjoyed the story.

Title comes from: While in college, Oscar was told he looked like Oscar Wilde, which earned him the nickname Oscar Wao. He died in his 20s, leading to the rest of the title.

Awards won: I picked it up because it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, but it also won the John Sargent, Sr. First Novel Prize, the Dayton Peace Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle award in 2008.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

  1. Thank you for joining the challenge! Welcome! I started reading this book six weeks ago before we left for our vacation, but I had to return it to the library unfinished. I think I was halfway through thereabouts. I enjoyed the surreal aspect of the novel, but I found the narrative frequently lapsing into self-loathing which borders on the self-indulgent. I found it difficult to connect to the characters emotionally. Perhaps I’d pick the book up again before the year ends. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this.

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