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Freewheeling Andy

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

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Oscar Wao has been raved about in some quarters. It's won a Pulitzer prize for fiction. Friends have told me how great it is. How it's a sassy, streetwise, urban, latin Philip Roth.

 

Frankly, it's all a bit underwhelming, actually.

 

There's probably a good book in there, trying to get out, a family history of people coming from the Dominican Republic. There's a lot of interesting material.

 

But the book is so heavily overblown in structural and stylistic tics, and it plays the "cool urban slanginess" too hard, that I ended up just wanting to throw it down.

 

The story, briefly, is of Oscar Wao, who is a spectacularly geeky kid with parents who emigrated from the Dominican Republic in the 60s. It's a mixture of him trying to find love, and the back story of his family.

 

There's interesting history linked to the Trujillo regime, and Balaguer; and some cultural notes. But, in one of the really annoying tics, most of it is in overlong and distracting footnotes. And frankly I felt I got as much history and much better writing in Vargas Llosa's The Feast Of The Goat (which is referenced somewhat disparagingly, incidentally, by Diaz).

 

And there's an interesting family story of immigrants and ties to the motherland. But it just doesn't come together.

 

It doesn't help, either, that maybe 10-15% of the book is in Spanish, as phrases and exclamations. Perhaps it would be better if I understood the Spanish, but to me it was just tiresome noise.

 

It also doesn't help that - Oscar being the geek he is - the book plays with tons of very geeky references, only maybe 30% of which I understood (and I thought I was a bit of a nerd); ones to Dungeons and Dragons or to myriad SF and fantasy books. Again, it's just more irritating noise.

 

Frankly, despite the good book hiding under all the style, and the interesting history also hiding under all the stylistic nonsense, it was quite a let-down.

 

I'd be interested to know if anyone else has read it, and quite what I'm missing.

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I wasn't too fussed about the geeky references although the Spanish was a pain. I don't think you are missing anything though, it's just a dull book.

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I just finished reading 'The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao' and I enjoyed it, I did find some of the Spanish difficult to follow but I enjoyed the history.

 

I found a lot of the 'geeky' references funny, the way they were intertwined into the story was interesting, I found it a quiet relief from the Spanish (at times). I thought the family history in parts was complicated but a strong element to the story.

 

After a initial rocky start reading the book, I really enjoyed it by the end, I think the main focus of the story is clouded over by the numerous Spanish and historical references, they have relevant but I think the book could have coped with less of them. The main focus of the book for me was love, Oscar has all this love to give and rarely showed any love because of various reasons, at first I did see Oscar as a non~existent character but as the story progressed and other stories were told about his Mother, his sister, etc, I found Oscar much more appealing, despite the fact he was very much happy in his own misery but at the end of the story he had found some manner of happiness, extremely short lived happiness but still happiness.

 

:friends0:

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I read this a s part of my 'Round the World' reading challenge. The author was born and raised in Dominican Republic. The novel concerns the life of a family in the DR and how they coped under the Teijillo regime and in Paterson in New Jersey. Oscar Wao is a nerd, totally lost in a world of Role playing games, Marvel comics and Science Fiction. The rest of the family are more down to earth, but have troubles of their own.

 

Oscar's story is not compelling, partly because how he is portrayed, partly because it's not that credible. The insight into how life in the Dominican Republic was under Teijillo regime was interesting.

 

Overall I did not enjoy this. The heavy use of swearing/vulgar language became tedious. The amount of Spanish used was reasonable, but tended to get in the way. As a debut novel I was unimpressed. The writing was choppy. There was to much stylistic gloss and the author put himself in the novel as if to say 'I'm wonderful, look what I had to deal with.'

Edited by sirinrob

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Frankly, it's all a bit underwhelming, actually.

 

I feel the same way. I read this last year and was expecting a good, good read from all the reviews. I found it disjointed and unrealistic in the sense that Oscar's character was a little plastic (shall we say virtual) and, for me, not believable.

 

From a creative writing professor at MIT, this was very disapponting.

 

The insight into how life in the Dominican Republic was under Trujillo regime was interesting.

 

You are right, this was very interesting. A redeemeing factor.

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It's one of the few books that I actually stopped reading, with no intention to pick it up aain. The footnotes were really annoying and so long I couldn't stand them, they always bring the reading flow to an abrupt halt. And of course, I don't speak spanish at all..

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Wow, people have really disliked this book here. :D I, on the other hand, pretty much loved it. The footnotes were indeed long at times, but they were necessary and it didn't take me long to start seeing them as tightly knit parts of the story that were just positioned differently. The cursing and vulgar language in general didn't bother me at all: it suited the story unlike in some books that obviously just want to create fuss by using expressions like that. I think The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was an interesting story on so many levels. It had the historical aspect, it was an exciting story of a family, it had some mysterious things going on while it portrayed everything in a very realistic way... Funny, how basically a really sad story can be told in such a humorous way.

 

So, thumbs up from me to this one!

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I didn't like it .. it was a book I should have abandoned and would have but for my abandonment issues :D

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