- Fizzy Thoughts: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (hereto after known as just Oscar)
Junot Diaz
352 pages

I lurve popular culture references in books. Not really sure why, but I do. I also lurve writers who write like people talk (although that statement is going to bite me in the butt when I write my review of Their Eyes Were Watching God). It makes me feel all cool.

So, Oscar? Two thumbs up.

Oh. You want more? *sigh* Fine, make me think. Make me type until my fingers are bloody stubs.

Oscar is the story of Oscar. And his mom. And a little bit his sister. But mostly it’s Oscar and his mom.

Oscar is an overweight Dominican boy obsessed with science fiction and girls. His mom, Beli, grew up in the Dominican Republic. Born into a family Oscar is convinced is plagued by fuku (sort of the Dominican version of really, really bad luck…or a curse), Beli lost her entire family at an early age. Raised by a distant relative….

Wait. That’s not going to work, because I can’t tell you what happens. Well, I could, but that would give away the book, and that’s no fun.

So. We got Oscar. Mostly, this is the story of Oscar growing up in New Jersey. And we got Beli. Partly, this is the story of Beli growing up in the Dominican Republic. It is helpful to know that the story is narrated by a family friend. One with an impressive grasp of Dominican-Spanish street slang. Oh, and Wao is not Oscar’s real last name. There. Consider this book summarized. On to my thoughts...

Oscar is littered with Spanish phrases. At first, I looked some of them up. Then, because I was spending more time translating phrases than I was reading, I quit with that idea and just kept reading. You can pretty much figure out when the insults are flying, and when people are sucking up. Here are some of the very useful phrases I learned:

tu eres guapa = you are beautiful
una maldita borracha = a damn drunk
tu ta lloranda por una muchacha = are you crying over a girl?
gordo asqueroso = disgusting fatso
bochinche = gossip

Are you impressed with my new Spanish skills? Yeah, me neither. However, now you have an eensy-weensy taste of the healthy, positive dialogue that happens in the book.

Also making frequent appearances are references to all sorts of sci-fi/manga/whatever stuff that went right over my head. And I do mean right over my head, without even stopping to wave. Oh well. I still liked the book. Although I feel a little out of touch. Luckily, Hamburger is working with a 26 year old who keeps us up on all the current slang. Why just last week I learned the latest meaning of bounce (hang out) and flip (it’s no longer just for houses, it works for anything you want to re-sell).

Obviously, I’m having a hard time explaining exactly why I liked this book (other than the unique style). Oh, wait...it's got footnotes. Wacky footnotes, sort of like in Good Omens. And the footnotes are actually informative...you'll learn a bit of Dominican history, such as who fuckface* and fuckface, jr are. So now that you’re even more confused than you were before you started reading this post, I’ll end with the recommendation to read this book. Really. It’s like no other (well, except for the footnotes). At least no other that I’ve read (and can remember). However, if you end up not liking the book, please forget I ever recommended it. And if you're not too keen on references to fuckface, you have my permission to skip it.

It also won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction if that sort of stuff interests or impresses you. It has not been selected by Oprah. That book will be the subject of my next review.
*funny fact: blogger recommends spelling fuckface fuck face. I'm shocked it even recognizes the f word.

8 comment(s):

Ti said...

So since you gave it two thumbs that means you liked it. I have not read this one but my book group tore it apart. They can be on the conservative side at times but it was enough to make me run very far from it.

Charley said...

I wasn't interested in reading this book, but I kept reading such positive reviews by fellow book bloggers that I added it to my list. I hope to read it soon.

Care said...


J.S. Peyton said...

I've only read the first couple of chapters on this book (it was at a friends house), and what impressed me what how perfectly he described elementary school romance. I thought it was great, and I really loved Diaz's writing style. I still need to get my own copy but I will. Oh, I will. Happy to hear you liked it!

Ladytink_534 said...

My hubby is trying to learn Spanish right now. I still don't think the word "guapa" sounds beautiful lol!

chartroose said...

Thank God it was not selected by Her Majesty! Oh, and I can't read you at work again, dammit! You need to migrate to Wordpress just to satisfy me because you may not know it but I'm the most important person in your life right now.

softdrink said...

Ti...I cannot see conservative readers appreciating this one at all.

Charley - I think it's worth reading, but then I have odd taste. I do think it's a "you either love it or you hate it" kind of book.

Care - :-D

Biblioaddict - I think the style drives the book.

Tink - I'm with ya on guapa...sounds too much like guano. ;-)

chartroose - of course you're the most important! Tell you what...I'll migrate to wordpress if you come out for the book group expo. :-b

Jessica said...

Your review made me laugh out loud. :) This was one of those unquantifiable books for me too. I liked it, but it's very hard to explain. Overall, I think Mr. Diaz is one to watch and this book is one to read. Thank you Pulitzer committee.

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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