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Love it or Hate it: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Have you ever noticed how some books seem to drive a wedge between people? You check the reviews and find almost no middle-of-the-road ratings. Instead people either seem to love it or hate it. Well, welcome to the Love it or Hate it post category! Each month, we’ll pick one book to review and two contributors will battle it out to convince you to pick it up or throw it out. Last month we discussed Life of Pi and once again the “love it” fans won with 66% of the vote. Many thanks to Sara and Kristel for their wonderful reviews.

This month we will be discussing: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. We have two contributors this month and their names will be revealed after voting closes! Please make sure to vote for this month’s book even if you haven’t read the book you can vote! The poll is at the bottom of this post.

oscar wao
Book Summary (from GoodReads): Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who 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 fukú — the ancient curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still dreaming of his first kiss, is only its most recent victim – until the fateful summer that he decides to be its last.

With dazzling energy and insight, Junot Díaz immerses us in the uproarious lives of our hero Oscar, his runaway sister Lola, and their ferocious beauty-queen mother Belicia, and in the epic journey from Santo Domingo to Washington Heights to New Jersey’s Bergenline and back again. Rendered with uncommon warmth and humor, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao presents an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and the endless human capacity to persevere – and to risk it all – in the name of love.
LOVE IT: Reviewer A: I cannot tell you how much I liked this book. I believe that listening to the story, narrated by two wonderful actors (Jonathan Davis and Staci Snell) with authentic (in my opinion) accents, made my love for it complete. I do believe I would have enjoyed the story in any format, but listening to it was like watching the movie: a horrible, scary movie about the life and death in the D.R.

To make it even more astonishing, the story is told in cycles which do not follow the usual time line (past to present to future), but instead go “back in time” (from Oscar and Lola to their mum to their grandparents, and only then back to Oscar).

Most stories are not at all the happy ones. How could they be, especially for someone living in the Dominican Republic during the Trujillo regime? Most of the stories are quite disturbing and very, very sad, and I must say that the saddest for me was not the one of Oscar, but the one of Abelard’s, Oscar’s grandfather, and The Fall.

I think for me, the major turn on was in the historical facts incorporated into the novel: the footnotes, that most people seem to abhor, were, in my opinion, quite essential for the plot line. I don’t generally enjoy ‘reading’ history books. But in this novel the story of the country, its ‘customs’, and horrific details of Trujillo regime were incorporated into Oscar’s family’s life story with such finesse that it didn’t seem to bore me at all.

On the other hand the story wouldn’t have been complete without the use of Spanish words and phrases. I am acquainted with quite a few languages, but Spanish is not one of them. In spite of that, I did not only have any trouble either understanding them through the context, or quickly researching the meaning of the more complicated words or phrases, but also enjoyed it quite a bit. (Being an immigrant myself I do know for a fact how one intertwines different languages into one’s personal, truly unique slang.)
HATE IT: Reviewer B: I gave this book 1 star.  Uno.  Wow.  Hated this book. Even the title makes me angry.

Oscar Wao is obese, lonely, a sci-fi geek, and a virgin (natch) of Dominican descent.  The story is sort of about him, but mostly about his family (there are parts about his sister, his mother, and his mother’s parents.)  And it’s narrated (at times) by some appalling ghetto-speaking “playa.” (I mean a player, not a beach.)

The writing is dreadful.

There are 3 1/2 page paragraphs; Spanish never translated to English; extremely long historical footnotes in minuscule print; switching of 1st person narrators so that when somebody says “I” you have to try to figure out who it is; DIALOGUE IS NOT IN QUOTES …. one day, I’m going to write a book, and not use quotes in my dialogue, and then I too can win a Pulitzer;  fragmented sentences GALORE (clearly he turned off the thing in MS Word which tells you – politely – “fragment, consider revising”); frequent use of “Negro, please” (or its less pleasant, but same meaning, alternate) as a rebuttal statement; an odd aversion to personal pronouns.  One part of the book takes place in the late 1950’s in Dominican Republic.  If you’ve ever seen the movie In the Time of Butterflies, this part of the book takes place during this horrid dictator’s regime.  Oscar’s mother is involved with someone close to the dictator.  This passage appears: Now check it:  the truck held a perico ripiao conjunto, fresh from playing a wedding in Ocoa.  Took all the courage they had not to pop the truck in reverse and peel out of there.Now check it????? I’m surprised he didn’t start out with a “Yo” and follow up with a “My Bad” – Also during this period: Home girl was ’bout it.

This is typical of the writing:Ignored her, ignored me.  Sat next to her brother, took his hand. That kind of writing isn’t clever … It’s lazy. But I supposed it’s nothing compared to: I didn’t have no medical.  (This was narrative, not dialogue.)

I hate this book so much that I’ve taken it personally.  Like it was written and won a Pulitzer just to piss me off.  So why did I finish it?  I was hoping for some redemption.  And I got just the briefest glimpse of it … but it was in no way wondrous.

What did you think of the book? Cast your votes below.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy of the book at this link: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WO

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Just removed it from my TBR!


    April 5, 2015
    • Lol, I added it to my TBR based on the reviews. I was conflicted b/c the two people who contributed this month are people whose ratings I agree with the majority of the time (with a few notable exception). So i’m curious which side I will fall into.


      April 5, 2015
      • imabookwormy #

        I am also adding to my TBR 🙂


        April 6, 2015
      • deadlikeme13 #

        I’m so happy you’re in my camp 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        August 3, 2015
      • I think we probably agree more than disagree in our book tastes 🙂


        August 3, 2015
  2. Kate_T #

    Just saw Jen’s post in the 1001 group. I’m curious after reading the reviews if I will love it or hate it. Bumping this up on my TBR list now.


    April 18, 2015
  3. Ben S #

    I just read this book for a literature class in college, and I, too, cared little for this work. Now, I did read the entire book because I feel it fair to give the author every chance possible to woo me over. However, I was appalled at the blatant use of racial slurs towards the reader. To me, it felt wrong to be addressed as the N-word to my face. What made me especially apathetic towards one of several main characters, that being Oscar, was simply a poorly written character. He is not someone I sympathized with, and he comes across as a lazy and stubborn teenager despite those years being far behind him. Oscar is also the definition of pretentious. He believes that he will be the JRR Tolkien of the Dominican Republic where he is from. Yet, his work is never described, and his books are never published. For those of you who have read the novel, it is my belief that he got what he deserved.


    February 5, 2019

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