A Brief Wondrous Tale by Junot Diaz

Are you:

  1. Into anything fantasy and sci-fi?
  2. Into comic books / graphic novels?
  3. Interested in pseudo-historical conspiracy theories and rumors?
  4. Intrigued by the islands of the Caribbean (particularly the Dominican Republic)?
  5. A believer in family curses, and other supernatural occurrences?
  6. Partial to obese nerdy kids with no social skills and therefore no love lives (read:  still a virgin)?

If you answered “Yes” to all 6 questions…Ok, maybe not all 6, but questions 1-5 at least, then you will absolutely love Junot Diaz‘s 2008 Pulitzer prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Despite its title, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is not only about Oscar de Leon, a.k.a Oscar Wao, but also about de Leon family, namely his mother, Beli, and his sister, Lola, and the narrator, who, for one selfish reason or another, manages to get himself involved with the de Leons.

The novel is also about The Dominican Republic (where the de Leons are from), and the (in)famous dictator, Rafael Trujillo.

The narrator of the novel sets out to share the remarkable lives of the (un)fortunate de Leons to try to understand them, to get answers, and also largely out of guilt.

As the lives of the de Leons unfold through his casual narrative, sprinkled with Spanish and English slang words and phrases, with a good helping of malas palabras, he creates a picture of a family possibly cursed by a selfish dictator; weaving together elements from the historical to the supernatural, blurring the lines between what’s real and what’s not.

And because it is still a novel largely (no pun intended) about Oscar, who loves comic books and “genres,” the narrator freely cites famous works of fantasy and sci-fi, namely The Lord of the Rings, Watchmen and Star Wars.

The connection between the de Leons and Rafael Trujillo, and other “historical” personas of the Dominican Republic, the narrator presents and develops through a series of footnotes, scattered throughout the novel, which contain seemingly historical tidbits and well-known rumors about the country and the dictator.

The narrator’s informal and humorous style of storytelling and endless use of footnotes to distract and entertain can almost hide the fact that the novel is a sad and tragic tale of loneliness, injustice, freedom from oppression, and escape.

Just a note to those who intend to read this book:  Make sure you are well-read in works of fantasy and sci-fiction, the history of the Dominican Republic, and are fluent in street talk and slang in both Spanish and English.

Or, just make sure that while reading, the internet is well within your reach.

***

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz (2008)

Personal Rating – 3.4/5 3.5/5

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12 thoughts on “A Brief Wondrous Tale by Junot Diaz

  1. This is one of my favorite books ever! I had no knowledge of Dominican history before reading this book but wanted to know more afterwards. Great review.

    • Thanks! I felt the same way. I actually read up on The Dominican Republic and Trujillo during and after reading the book. It also made me want to read Mario Llosa’s novel about Trujillo, The Feast of the Goat, which Diaz mentions in Oscar Wao.

    • Thanks! It’s a very fun book to read, especially the informal narrative, and I loved all the references to comic books, fantasy, and sci-fi, especially Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (yes, I’m a big fan lol).

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