Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao


Author:   Junot Diaz

Type:  Fiction

Pages:  340 Paperback

ISBN:  978-1-59448-958-7

Publisher:  RiverHead Books / Penguin

Publisher’s Website:

Author’s Website:

Purchase:  $7.95 at Amazon.Com


junotThis book review, I am certain, is doomed to disappoint. But, January’s lucky streak of awesome books has now been cursed by the Fuku’ of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. 

This book is the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Winner.  Do you think it’s just me?  Do I expect too much out of award winning books?

Let’s start with the story lines.  This book is a compilation of the stories of the lives several family members originating in the  Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo).  The reader, eventually, gets to understand the lives of a Doctor Cabral, his wife, their children, and grandchildren.   In addition to them, many other characters are introduced and experienced by the readers.  The lives of these characters are entwined with the life Cabral Family.  The one thing that I can say about this book is that there is no lack of characters in this story.  In fact, there are so many supporting characters and different viewpoints, that I was constantly flipping back in the book to understand who it was that I was reading about. 

Let’s move onto Oscar Wao as he did get the “title” role.  Oscar is the grandson of Doctor Cabral, Son of Beli (a mother suffering with the ways of her only unruly daughter in addition to breast cancer), Brother to Lola (that unruly daughter), Nephew to La Inca (old school lady who raised Beli after her parents’ deaths), and Friend to Yunior (a very horny man in love with Lola).  Confused? That’s okay… I was too.  Oscar has been dealt the unfortunate hand of a weight problem topped with a lovely case of chronic acne.  Pobre!  Other than a brief time in his childhood, this poor dude never made it with the ladies.  And, when I say “made it,” that includes even a decent make-out session.  I guess 300+ lbs. will do that to you.  He loses himself in science fiction, fantasy, writing, and typical nerd activities (D&D, etc.).  However, Oscar is a true romantic.  When he falls in love, it’s hard and he does not bounce back well when the rejection hits.  His life is one cut out of a Greek Tragedy.  After the reader gets to meet Oscar, he is led to read about Lola, the hot-headed, strong-willed sister.

Lola and her mother, Beli, do not get along at all!  The fighting that these two experience is incomprehensible to me.  But, they do come from a different culture then I did… and, then… there is the Fuku’.  From Lola and her teenage hardships, love dramas, and strife, we move onto the very sad life of her mom, Beli.  I really did enjoy reading the story of Beli’s past.  It was gripping, exotic and tragic.  Moving on… we follow Oscar and Lola through their experience into and during the college years.  While the reader is taken there, there are side travels into the lives of La Inca, Abelard, and Yunior.  Now, it would take me nearly a book to get into who they are and why they are important.  Did I mention this book was complex?

So… this book accompanies these characters on their travels back and forth between Santo Domingo and The United States of America.  I cannot say that this is a book with much positive happening to these characters, but not all books are written to be such.  I mean… look at the previous year’s Pulitzer Prize winner… The Road.  Nothing positive happens there, either.  OK… so… a heavy book, an intricate book, and A WELL WRITTEN BOOK… how the heck do I review you?  Let me give you the skinny about what makes this book hard for me to review:

  • This book is heavily footnoted with historical facts and explanations of people-tales-beliefs for the reader to understand the metaphors in the book.  The footnotes are, in most cases, extremely lengthy.  And, since the history of this region and history in general are not to strong points of mine, this was highly distracting and frustrating for me.  However, these footnotes are very important to the understanding of the story and, at times, fascinating to read.  But, it did create a lot of back and forth for me in reading. 
  • I do read a good amount of Spanish, however I struggled with the vocabulary in this book.  At one point I thought that I’d highlight and look-up.  There were so many words that I plainly gave up on that notion.  Good thing is, it didn’t take away that much comprehension of the story… I hope!
  • The book is written almost in the fashion of short stories that are stringed together.  However, rather than a straight line (like a fishing line), it’s like crocheted together.  The story of this family is not linear.  Now, I can’t decide on whether or not I would have preferred it to be linear or not. 
  • I have been avoiding writing my review and usually I run, and do not walk, to the keyboard after I finish a book.  I had NO IDEA how to review this book.

In reading the “Classics” and being a well-read and educated person, I can see the benefit in reading the Pulitzer Prize winners.  It will only enhance your ability to engage in better conversations and add to the diversity of your mind.  I am a better person for having read it.  But, I’m still scratching my head.  The good news is, I’m in a book club now.  This is our cirremt read and we get to chat about it in just over a week.  I have a feeling that I may learn a lot from these ladies.  Maybe my perspective will be enhanced.


Writing this review is comparable to visiting the dentist…. I’m just glad that it’s done.  For the genre Fiction-Drama I give this book an 8 out of 10.  I can’t tell you how conflicted I am about that rating.  I feel as though it deserves better from me.  I reserve the right to increase the rating after my book club meeting!  This book would make a good movie, if set in a linear fashion.  If you are one who is offended by foul language or crude sexual descriptions, you will definitely not want to read this book… it’s loaded with it.  I was, however, not bothered by the majority of it.

Please keep an eye out for Lisa’s (Books on the Brain) review.  She’s finished the book and should be reviewing soon.

P.S. Look up Fuku’ (I may start using that word).

P.S.S. I have no idea why the footer at the end of this post is all jacked up and to the right… sorry for the imperfection.  See… FUKU!?!

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19 Responses

  1. Diane

    January 30th, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    I loved this book but I had the audio version and the foreign words were a bit of a problem.

    BTW…You blog is great!

  2. Lisamm

    January 30th, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    Hi Sheri! Interesting review. I’m looking forward to our book club discussion. I can’t even guess what the others will think of it. You rated it higher than I thought you would!

    It really was tricky to review- I had mixed feelings about it too and had to sit on it a couple of days before putting my thoughts down.

    Hey! After book club, do you want to guest post for me on BOTB with a book club wrap up post??

    Lisamm’s last blog post..Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

  3. Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz « Books on the Brain

    January 30th, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    […] it? Absolutely.  But for another take on it, see Sheri’s review from A Novel Menagerie HERE.  She’s just joined my real life book club and we’ll be discussing it next […]

  4. Nely

    January 30th, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    I love your review on this. I recently read it and I loved the whole introduction – explaining the Fuku. I had to read it to my husband just because I thought it was funny. Yes, and every once in a while I threaten that a fuku is gonna get him. LoL

    Nely’s last blog post..Friday Finds

  5. Alyce

    January 30th, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    I have read mixed reviews of this book, so I was not surprised to read that you had mixed feelings. I had considered this book as an audio for when I drive by myself, but after reading about the profanity and subject matter I decided against it. Your review just confirmed to me that this is probably not a book I would enjoy.

    Alyce’s last blog post..Friday Finds – January 30

  6. Meg @ Literary Menagerie

    January 31st, 2009 at 3:38 am

    I agree that the book was confusing when you’re moving around in time, but I have to say that it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. From page 1 I was sucked in, reading in every spare moment, and the ending felt so… painfully real and honest.

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it more!

    Meg @ Literary Menagerie’s last blog post..Library Loot 1.21.09

  7. Margo M

    January 31st, 2009 at 8:24 am

    thanks for this review. It’s one of those “must read” kind of books that I’ve been putting off because I have a feeling I might not be as crazy about it as I would hope.. and now I can put it off just a little longer because I respect your opinion so much :)

    Margo M’s last blog post..Welcome to the New Era of Responsibility?

  8. Shana @ Literarily

    January 31st, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Sher, I was really looking forward to your review of this book and it did not disappoint! Sometimes award winners meet up to all the hype and anticipation and sometimes not. I find myself liking the winners of certain awards better than others.

    So far, the Orange Prize winners have not disappointed me – that’s why I’m reading them for your challenge.

    Now off to look up the meaning of fuku …

    Shana @ Literarily’s last blog post..Friday Finds

  9. Teddy

    January 31st, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Sher, your review was excellent! Not disappointing at all. I also 8 out of 10 was quite generous. I gave it 3 out of 5.

    Teddy’s last blog post..Giveaway: The Terror By Dan Simmons

  10. Teddy

    January 31st, 2009 at 9:17 pm

  11. Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz | 1800blogger

    February 1st, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    […] I recommend it? Absolutely. But for another take on it, see Sheri’s review from A Novel Menagerie HERE. She’s just joined my real life book club and we’ll be discussing it next […]

  12. Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz | Literature Blog

    February 1st, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    […] recommend it? Absolutely.  But for another take on it, see Sheri’s review from A Novel Menagerie HERE.  She’s just joined my real life book club and we’ll be discussing it next […]

  13. Menagerie

    February 2nd, 2009 at 12:55 am

    I would also recommend the book. It’s just so different than any other type of book that I’ve read that it’s hard to review.

    However, this book WILL NOT be for everyone!


  14. Anna

    February 3rd, 2009 at 6:23 am

    For a review that was so painful to write, you did a wonderful job! I’ve seen this title around, but I’m not sure it’s my cup of tea. The inclusion of so many Spanish words that I don’t understand would probably drive me batty.

    Anna’s last blog post..January Wrap-Up

  15. TheChicGeek

    February 27th, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    Great review. I love when people give honest reviews. This book is on my TBR list and now I’m thinking. I’d love to hear an update after you’ve discussed it with your club. I read a Pulitzer recently, “March.” I absolutely hated it….I’m beginning to wonder who exactly decides what wins the Pulitzer…maybe it’s a cruel joke for us readers.
    You have a lovely blog! I’ll definitely return!

  16. jane

    April 12th, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    I disliked the book from beginning to end–too much Spanglish, what was the point? Very flip, which is not always synonymous with witty. The plot was totally lacking, just a bunch of horrible experiences barely strung together. The history of D.R. could have made the book fascinating if only the Diaz saw that subject as the true wonder, not the brief, choppy, surface, vulgar, imaginings of a person that seemed misunderstood, boring and not worth getting to know by the narrator, so why should we? The characters were mostly shallow, except for some brief inner imagined thoughts the less than interesting narrator cared to plop on the page as though he were merely relieving himself. Ahh, the vulgarity is catching, not something I as a reader aspire to.

  17. Mike

    August 3rd, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    I enjoyed your review, and I share some of your feelings. I did not find the footnotes distracting; although, they made me feel guilty. The DR has such a sordid history, yet I as a smug American only know of it as it pertains to American baseball. It truly was one of the most unique reading experiences that I have had in a long time. The Spanish was also incomprehensible for me, but the author wrote it in a way that I could figure out what 90% of it meant (or at least whether it was something good or bad). I loved how you referred to Oscar as being cut from a Greek tragedy because that is it exactly. His life is one where he can not deviate from the path “fate” (or the fuku) has set for him.

    I also loved the mystical aspects of the story, the recurring mongoose and man with no face.

    All in all, this was an incredibly interesting novel, but one that is hard to pin down as it is so unique. Great reivew.

  18. Desiree

    August 23rd, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    I appreciate your honesty and the honesty of the previous posts, especially since I absolutely loved this book. For one, the spanglish of the novel is a fitting way to portray the reality of being both Dominican and American. Diaz introduces us to the world as he and many other Domincians experience it (with the intermingled language that many use within it), something that we should expect to encounter when reading any novel. For me, the meanings of most of the Spanish words were easily grasped from the context. I also did not find the multitude of characters confusing.

    Perhaps I related to the novel because as a certain kind of New Yorker, there is familiarity in Yunior’s style of narration. I am also from Trinidad (by the way, we are English speakers) and was surprised by some of the similarities between ourselves and Dominicans (the Spanish and English speakers of the Caribbean tend to overlook these). Regardless of why I was able to relate to the novel and why others were not, it is important to tell your own story, in the language and style that best reflects your reality. I am excited to see that people from different walks of life are reading this novel and are noticing how different or similar this it is to their experiences. It’s a reminder that we are not alone in this world and that the way we live is not the only way to live it. There are many stories, many histories and many ways to write about them.

  19. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz | Linus's Blanket

    January 7th, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    […] A Novel Menagerie […]

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