A luscious book to savor: Review of The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

A book like this doesn’t come along very often. Reading this novel was like eating cake after I’ve been on a diet: I wanted to wolf it down so fast! There’s an effortless blend of street language, nerd culture, and literary genius. In the far future, when people read this book to better understand us, readers will buy one of those annotated books that’s twice as long as the novel itself.

In this novel, there’s a hint of the multi-generational, cultural-specific epics like A Hundred Years of Solitude. There’s also the history of a nation intertwined within the story, much like Midnight’s Children. And then there’s the modernity of language and reference of current culture that fixes the novel so firmly to our world. And above it all, there’s the narrator. He’s so present, and his use of language is intimate and causal, yet detailed and beautiful.

I savored this book. While I could have read it in just a few sittings, I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep it around as long as possible. I refused to read it with any distractions because I didn’t want to miss more than was necessary. And it is necessary to miss some with this book. First, there’s all that Spanish which I don’t speak. I picked up on a lot of it, but there’s a bunch I either looked up or glossed over. The second reason I missed so much was all the references to culture, either to classic geekdom of which I got quite a lot, or references to the Dominican Republic of which I was clueless. And finally, there’s some mysteries to this book which the narrator doesn’t simplify. The reader is expected to be smart and attentive. I will someday read this again. I hope to get a little more Spanish in me before then, but I won’t let that stop me from picking it back up.

The example of the writing I’d like to share is from page 41: “Poor Oscar. Without even realizing it he’d fallen into one of those Let’s-Be-Friends Vortexes, the bane of nerdboys everywhere. These relationships were love’s version of a stay in the stocks, in you go, plenty of misery and heartbreak nobody knows. Perhaps some knowledge of self and of women./Perhaps.” The language is sharp and quick, hard to pin down, full of this very world, and so amazing when reading pages and pages of it.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone.

Hint: Do read the footnotes as they are as much a part of the story as anything else.

You can find my discussion questions here.

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