In this month’s Writer’s Book Club, I review Junot Diaz’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
I had seen this book on bookstore and library shelves over the years, picked it up, considered getting it, then put it back. When I discovered that Lin-Manuel Miranda read the audiobook version (along with Karen Olivo), I decided to get it. I’m glad I did.
Most of the book is narrated by Yunior (played by Miranda). Yunior recounts the story of Oscar de Leon–an overweight Dominican boy living in New Jersey with his mother, Hypatia Belicia Cabral (Beli), and his sister, Lola.
The novel is an epic family tale that starts with a fuku curse. It tells of Beli’s story as a young girl and Abelard’s, Oscar’s grandfather, as a young man. Interwoven throughout the book is the history of the Dominican Republic.
What I liked about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
I liked learning about the history of the Dominican Republic. I’ve been there, but only to visit the beautiful beaches, so I enjoyed understanding more about the country and its people.
Diaz’s characters are interesting and well-developed. Even when their choices frustrated me, I rooted for them. Yunior uses a lot of slang (including the f-word and racial slurs–here’s your fair warning), while Oscar uses encyclopedic language. Both characters are equally intelligent (they meet while attending college at Rutgers), but I appreciated how Oscar’s vocabulary differentiated him from his peers.
And Diaz’s writing is descriptive and beautiful:
“Sucks to be left out of adolescence, sort of like getting locked in the closet on Venus when the sun appears for the first time in a hundred years.”
“Beli at thirteen believed in love like a seventy-year-old widow who’s been abandoned by family, husband, children and fortune believes in God.”
“The thoughts he put in her head. Someone should’ve arrested him for it.”
Of course, Miranda’s narration is spot-on, bringing humor and poignancy to the story.
(I’ve been a fan of his ever since we saw him in Hamilton on Broadway, and he took a selfie with my daughters and me.)
Issues I had with the book
At times there was too much exposition on the history of the Dominican Republic, making me restless and wanting to get back to Oscar’s story.
I wanted more (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing)
It was somewhat frustrating that the story wasn’t told from Oscar’s point of view (though, based on the title, you know why he doesn’t narrate the book). I wanted to learn more about what he was thinking and feeling.
While I enjoyed listening to the Spanish, at times, I had to guess the meaning. So, I’ve bought the hardcover book and plan on listening to the audiobook while I follow along and translate.
How this book affected my writing
I’m intrigued by Yunior as both the narrator (often an unreliable narrator) and a character in the story, reminding me of Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby (there are other similarities between these books.). I have a few ideas for stand-alone books and might use this narration technique when I write them.
I give The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 👍🏻 👍🏻 👍🏻 👍🏻 1/2 stars for beautiful storytelling and Miranda’s narration.
Readers are getting their free advanced reader copy (ARC) of The Devil Particle, and you can too!
The ARCs are in! Jessica, Dave, Mary, and others have received their copies.
If you’d like your own advanced copy of The Devil Particle in exchange for an honest review on Amazon when the book is released on June 6th, simply sign-up: https://tdparc.paperform.co. (Check out my article on ARCs for more information).
Next month’s book
Stephen King’s Fairy Tale. I’m a huge fan of King’s novels, so I was excited when my friend Cassie told me the audiobook was terrific. This story of a seventeen-year-old boy befriending an elderly neighbor and his dog draws you in.
What’s happening this month
March 25-26, 2023, Chicago – Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference. In addition to workshops (including my workshop on characters), and panel discussions on all aspects of writing, agents and publishers will be there to hear your pitch. Hope to see you then!