Book Review – Diaz’s Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Diaz

I’m late to the Diaz game, so probably you’ve already read this. If not, here goes: this is the story of awkward overweight SF fan Oscar Wao and his family. Its also a lot more than that.  Diaz uses the Wao family to tell the story of modern Dominican life in both the public sphere (Trujillo, et al) and the private sphere. He shuttles between the DR and the expat communities of New Jersey and New York and, at least from my outside position, he captures the culture well. He taught me things I did not know.


The book is, no surprise for a multi-award winner, well-constructed and wonderfully written. Diaz does dialogue and internal monologues extremely well and his sense of place is pitch-perfect. The narrator’s voice comes off as authentic and real. The characters are nuanced and believable. They say write what you know and I’d say Diaz knows this terrain.


But this is more than a well done novel. It attempts to explain a time and a culture. Does it accomplish this? I’m probably not the one to judge – it isn’t my culture, nor my place, but I did feel, viscerally, what the pillage and petty cruelty of the Trujillo era did to people. I did get a glimpse of understanding of what it’s like being the boy without the girl in a culture obsessed with getting the girl; what it’s like to be a girl in that culture and a bit of what it’s like to be the mother trying to hold it all together in a world that appears deadest on destroying you and your family.


It’s a powerful work, funny, heartbreaking, and very well done. You’ve probably already read it, if not, you should.



Junot Diaz

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