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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Paperback – September 2, 2008
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Amazon Best of the Month, September 2007: It's been 11 years since Junot Díaz's critically acclaimed story collection, Drown, landed on bookshelves and from page one of his debut novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, any worries of a sophomore jinx disappear. The titular Oscar is a 300-pound-plus "lovesick ghetto nerd" with zero game (except for Dungeons & Dragons) who cranks out pages of fantasy fiction with the hopes of becoming a Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien. The book is also the story of a multi-generational family curse that courses through the book, leaving troubles and tragedy in its wake. This was the most dynamic, entertaining, and achingly heartfelt novel I've read in a long time. My head is still buzzing with the memory of dozens of killer passages that I dog-eared throughout the book. The rope-a-dope narrative is funny, hip, tragic, soulful, and bursting with desire. Make some room for Oscar Wao on your bookshelf--you won't be disappointed. --Brad Thomas Parsons --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. What a bargain to have Diaz's short story collection, Drown, included (on the last five CDs) with the talented, emerging Dominican-American writer's first novel. Davis reads both superbly. He captures not only the fat, virginal, impractical Oscar, but he also gives a sexy vigor to Yunior, who serves as narrator and Oscar's polar opposite. Davis also gives voice to Oscar's mother, Beli, whose fukú curse infects the entire family, except for Oscar's sister, Lola, performed in a flat voice by Snell, whose performance overlooks Lola's energy and resolve. Both Snell and Davis move easily from English to Spanish/Spanglish and back again, as easily as the characters emigrate from the Dominican Republic to Paterson, N.J., only to be drawn back inexorably to their native island. Listeners unfamiliar with Spanish may have difficulty following some of the dialogue. However, it's better to lose a few sentences than to miss Davis's riveting performance, perfect pace and rich voice, which are perfectly suited to Díaz's brilliant work.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
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What did I not like about it? Not much. I will say, that when I read American novels by minorities, I sometimes yearn for some respectful or laudatory characterization of white or Anglo Americans. In the last Toni Morrison novel I read I found one in a poor white woman who helped one of the black characters. However, in this novel, white people are just part of the occasional scenery, like ‘rich white kids,’ or ‘white boys,’ and ‘marine patrols,’ and ‘Watchers’: American servicemen in the Dominican Republic who ‘watch the action at a dance from the sidelines, and I’m a little surprised that the characters did not find any sympathetic white person to interact with. But that is evidently a reflection of the authors own experience, and I’m sure true and therefore valid. Some may find this concern on my part troubling, or puzzling. I state it because as an American, living on both coasts, I have always had interactions and friendships with ‘people of color,’ and I shake my head in wonder that, at least in fiction, that seems to be rare these days.
To sum up, five stars; to give it less could only be accounted for by deep animus toward the story teller or the characters and their origins/beliefs/whatever. This is masterful story-telling. Shame on Hollywood that they make one stupid action movie after another and ignore this brilliant work.
Those things are interesting, but what really draws me in are the themes. Family is a strong theme. In each character, the genetic personality and the familial influence of the other characters can be seen. The same story archetypes are repeated over and over in the lives of the characters, which symbolizes the family bond but at the same time the unending struggle against oppression. The oppression in the book is that of Dominican dictator of Trujillo, but this setting exists in dialogue with the modern frustration with the lack of civil rights progress. There is a dark fatalism to this theme which I bristle against, but I come away with the feeling the its a perspective that needs to be told. No one else is writes stories like this! The story is so beautiful and elegantly interwoven, that nothing else would fit. Part of that same retold story is Hope - to fall in love and take risks and to believe in magic.
With each chapter we learn more about Oscar, his mother, his sister, his ancestors. It was an engrossing read, and a beautiful and touching book.