Monday, December 17, 2012

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Published January 2007 by Random House
Read by: Jonathan Davis
Source: bought my audiobook at the library sale (and I bought a paperback copy several years ago as well)

Publisher's Summary:
Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the fuk├║ – the curse that has haunted the Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.


 What I Liked:
Spot on narration really helped me "read" this book in the voice I think Diaz intended. Davis does a great job with the Dominican accent, female voices (in no small part because he doesn't really try to make himself sound female), and the right attitude.

Oscar's mother is Beli, whose story takes up almost as much of the book as Oscar's; most of that is her past in the Dominican Republic and it was this part of the book that I liked best. Oscar I felt sorry for but, honestly, after a point I began to think "does this kid (and eventually adult) really not get it?" And then, towards the end, I felt sorry for him again and Diaz brought me back to caring.

No doubt about it, Diaz can write. He brings the Dominican Republic and its turbulent history to life and he has a unique descriptive voice.
"She is sixteen and her skin is the darkness before the black, the plum of the day's last light, her breasts like sunsets trapped beneath her skin, but for all her youth and beauty she has a sour distrusting expression that only dissolves under the weight of immense pleasure."

What I Didn't Like:
Chapter One - Oscar. Chapter 2 - Lola. Chapter 3 - Beli. When you're listening to a book only when you're driving to and from work, it's a long time between Chapter 1 and Chapter Four when Oscar finally reappears. This is one area where I wondered if just reading the book might have helped. Also, there were passages of historical context that were interesting and really informative but could be distracting, particularly when you were trying to drive and concentrate. After I finished and picked up the book, I realized that Diaz had these passages set as footnotes. I'm sure I would have read them anyway but I think I wouldn't have found it as distracting in print. 

Mini-me's best friend (BF), who loves to talk books with me, saw my copy of this sitting on my desk last night. He was shocked to find it in pristine condition. I had to point out that I'd listened to it, rather than reading it but he said that his copy is in tatters he's read it so many times. So while this one didn't live up to my expectations, clearly it has huge fans! I think I'll be bestowing my like-new copy to BF for Christmas.

10 comments:

  1. Glad you enjoyed it! I can see how the text would be confusing on audio vs. print. But I bet the narration was wonderful.
    Have you read Diaz's new one? It focuses on Yunior, from Oscar Wao. Really good!

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  2. His writing hasn't clicked for me yet. I've tried this one before after someone from book club insisted we all give it a try and I couldn't get past the first chapter.

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  3. I really loved and appreciated what Diaz did with Oscar Wao. It really made Dominican culture and storytelling dominant throughout the book, and as a reader I had to make the adjustment. As far as an audio, I think I would not have liked it had I listened to it. Like you said, it would have been way too confusing.

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  4. From your review, I think it sounds fantastic. I love beautiful and long-winded descriptions of different times and places. I'll have to pick this one up.

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  5. I have been on the fence with this one for so long, and I am still not sure!! I think that if I do eventually read it, I will do it in print. Thanks for the candor in this review. It really helps me to make a decision.

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  6. I really liked the Oscar parts. Wasn't a fan of the other parts.

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  7. Great review, Lisa. As you know, I downloaded the audio a few weeks ago but have not started listening. I think I'll try and pick up a print copy to go with it though. I agree that Diaz can write - was very impressed with This is How You Lose Her.

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  8. Your friend read his copy to tatters...I often wonder what it is that makes someone re-read over and over again while I find that I can't even make it past page 10!!!

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  9. Hmmm. I almost picked this one up a few times but was hesitant to do so. You convinced me that I should have. And thanks for the warning about the audiobook. Switching narrators like that can be so confusing in audio.

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  10. Your review is fantastic, Lisa. You've definitly piques my interest in reading this book, too, something I have yet to do despite meaning to, too. I think mixed reviews have caused me to feel lukewarm towards it. Diaz's new book has helped to resurrect my interest in reading this book and I'm hoping to get to it this winter.

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