The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao


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. (Summary and book cover courtesy of


This was a book that I still have very mixed feelings on so I’m going to do more of a pro/con comparison rather than my typical overview of thoughts.

Pros:  There were some fantastic nerdy references throughout the book.  I would certainly consider myself well-read in the genre and there were some references that went over my head (that I’ll need to fix!).  I also learned a lot about the Dominican Republic and the Trujillo dictatorship which I found interesting.

Cons: If you don’t speak Spanish fluently, you’re going to struggle with parts of the book.  Often at times the Spanish is also slang so even if you’re fluent you may not always understand the context.  The tangents on the family never fully meshed together.  They were interesting background to pull together, but at the end of chapters I often had a “so what?” reaction.  Additionally, a lot of the focus was on the hopes of the characters to have sex.  That would be fine in of itself, but making it the essence of the Dominican character doesn’t do the culture justice.

Somehow despite my annoyances, the narration of the story is strong and I found it an intriguing read.  Like some classics, I’m not sure it’s a book people will all enjoy, but still may be worth the read.  I know I’m going to be doing some additional stewing on the book.

Warning: Contains violence

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? Folks interested in Dominican history, want to know what the fuss is about or looking for a non-traditional narration.

P.S. Does anyone else constantly read this as "The Brief AND Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao"??