2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar Reading Challenge Book #25

The broader prompts have been much more interesting during this challenge and this one was no exception. I really need to ask my mom what her selection process is as I believe it is very different than mine.

A book written by an author from a country you have never visited – The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Oscar de Leon is a Dominican American living in New York with his mother and sister. His father had run out years before never to return and his mother is an ever present dictator in the family. Oscar himself is an outcast: obese, nerdy before it was hip, and longing for love and sex. He spends his time worrying that he will die a virgin and casts detailed love fantasies on every girl he chances to meet when he is not feverishly writing fantasy and sci-fi novels in his room. When his heart gets broken time and again he falls into a deep depression.

The novel follows the life of Oscar from childhood to early adulthood as he seeks to find his place in the world and to find love. Along the way, the reader is introduced to his family history, one that is filled with bad choices and violence. Will Oscar be able to break the family curse or will he succumb to it himself?


The novel takes place spanning a time from the early 1970s through the mid 1990s and introduces the reader to the de Leon family both in their origins in the Dominican Republic as well as in the US. The family believes in an old curse which they have named Fuku and which began with his grandfather in the times of the Trujillo dictatorship. 

While the novel is about Oscar, it is mostly written from a hidden narrator’s point of view except for a chapter from his sister, Lola. It is revealed half way through that the narrator is his sister’s boyfriend, Yunior who is writing the novel to make amends to the family for the wrongs he feels he has committed in his friendship with Oscar. 

The book is compelling although difficult to read with the randomly thrown in words and phrases in Spanish. In addition, the author uses multiple modern science fiction/pop culture references to move the story along. He frequently quotes Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and various superheroes as well as some more obscure characters that I was unfamiliar with. 

The characters themselves are well defined and rounded with full glimpses into their personalities and motivations. The chapters that go back into the family past help to enlighten the reader on how each character became who they were. 

I’m not well schooled on Dominican customs and traditions, so I can only go on what the author has served up in regards to the behaviors of those in the novel. Part of me felt a little betrayed by the author. As if he was leading me to believe unfavorable stereotypes and generalizations as truth. My own background offers nothing to counter what he writes, but it would be interesting to speak with someone of that cultural background to get their take on how the culture is being portrayed. 

The overall theme is about past curses and what we can do to break them. Oscar suffers depression and has no family help to solve his issues and break out of his cycles of self harm. In the end, Oscar is his own worst enemy and causes his downfall which mimics, a little too closely, part of his mother’s past. 

In the end, while I do not know how Oscar’s life could be called wondrous, the book is captivating and well worth the read. 

4/5

 

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