Spitzit’s House

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The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao – Book Review

oscar-wao1

Did you ever go see a movie that after reading all the rave reviews and hearing all the hype…and then walked out of the movie feeling really let down and thinking ‘this was not nearly as great’ as you were expecting or wanting it to be?   Well, that is what this book pretty much did for me…A really big let down.

The 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, that also managed to rake in a plethora of other literary awards and too many other accolades to even count, The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao chronicles…well, I can’t really say what the hell it chronicles, but I can tell you its not Oscar.   I guess you could say it chronicles the various family members of the de Leon family…and how the dark cloud of the “fuku” curse has followed and affected each of them ever since  Grandpa de Leon managed to piss off the evil Dominican Dictator Trujillo back in the 40’s.

Call me picky, but I generally enjoy a book that is compelling, intelligent, and that flows fast but smooth and keeps me turning each page with anticipation.   That was not this book…in fact, I found it frustrating, irritating, and it didn’t flow well for me at all.   First, if you don’t speak Spanish, you are going to miss a lot of what is being said because much of the dialogue from the characters is in Spanish (with no translation) and it switches from English and back again without warning and with no apparent reason, and left me feeling alienated and wondering what the Fuku they are talking about.

Second, the book has many footnotes to explain certain parts of Dominican history, or comic book references and “what not”, as if these asides are somehow critical to the story.  Some of the footnotes are quite lengthy and quite frankly unimportant in my opinion.  I have never read a fiction book that had foot notes, and quite honestly, there is a time and place for foot notes such as college thesis papers, etc…not fiction, but then again Diaz is an MIT professor, so I guess that would explain that.

Third, about half the time I can’t tell who is narrating the book, who is speaking, when they are speaking, or if they are speaking at all.    Call me an idiot, but good use of punctuation, quotation marks, etc. helps stupid people like me know when people are speaking in a book.   And another thing, the book is riddled with F bombs and N words used in the same sentence as big fat obscure intellectual words that normal people just don’t use.  The profanity does not bother me and neither do big “smart” words, but in this book it does not read naturally and feels forced, as if intentional and calculated to prove “street cred” and “superior intelligence” at the same time.  It just comes off pretentious to me.

If you are planning on reading this book and are of average to slightly above-average intelligence and do not speak Spanish, then you will need a dictionary, and translator as well (a computer opened to Google translator and dictionary.com will work as well).   You need to expect the book to flow something like this…

  • Read for a minute or two, then stop to translate a Spanish sentence
  • Read for a minute or two,then stop to look up an obscure word in the dictionary
  • Read for a minute or two, then stop to read a foot note
  • Repeat bullets one through three over and over again

On a positive note, there is a good story buried in this mess and I managed to translate some decent cultural imagery from it.  I know more about the Dominican Republic than I ever thought I would need to know, and I found Oscar to be a fascinating character.  In fact they are all pretty good characters and I found Lola’s and Beli’s stories to be the most interesting.  Oscar, though is the real and unexpected hero, and in my opinion he is the one who faces his destiny and falls on the Fuku sword like a true but tragic comic book hero.  He literally takes the Fuku “bullet” in the name of love and to restore all that should be right in the world…

“One ring to rule them all, One ring to find them. One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

This was not the worst book I ever read, just the most frustrating book I ever read.   After reading so many rave reviews, I can’t help but feel like the only guy that didn’t think this book was the greatest book of the year.  I definitely don’t think it was Pulitzer material, and am truly glad that I purchased it at Half Price Books.   I set my expectations too high and I was let down.  No big deal and no regrets.  I’m glad I read the book, and I will watch the movie, if they decide to make one (which will hopefully have subtitles), but I won’t be recommending this one, or placing it on my list of fave books.   I do congratulate Junot Diaz regardless of my own opinion.  Dude, you evidently did something right, because you really got the literary world drinking the Dominican Diaz Kool-Aid.

That’s my Opinion…and I am sticking with it all the way to the cane fields.

April 19, 2009 - Posted by | Book Reviews | , , , , , , , , ,

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