Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

What it is: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz is the story of a Dominican family with a curse that dooms them to tragedy and ill-fated love. Oscar, our overweight, nerdy protagonist, never seems capable of winning, either in his dreams of writing the next great sci-fi novel or in having his first kiss.

What I liked about it: I love Diaz’s writing–it’s melodic, honest, and incorporates his culture while maintaining a universally relatable tone. Oscar’s best friend narrates most of the novel, and this frame narration is an insightful element that highlights how we can know a lot about someone, but never truly realize their entire essence.

What I didn’t like about it: Diaz dabbles in multiple-perspective narration throughout the novel, which I thought was ineffective. His attempt at providing thorough characterization felt disjointed and distracted from the overall plotline. The rest of the story emphasizes the concept of relativity–everybody and everything affect each other–and the separation from Oscar’s story weakened the focus on how pieces of his life relate to each other.

Memorable quote: “But instead of bolting when the cries began, when the bones started breaking, he summoned all the courage he ever had, would ever have, and forced himself to do the one thing he did not want to do, that he could not bear to do. He listened.”

Overall rating: 3.5/5. I liked it, but something felt off the whole time, and I had to push myself to finish the book.

Challenge satisfied: #14, read a National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize).

Additional notes: Often authors who incorporate words & phrases from other languages restate/translate the foreign words into English immediately after using them, but Diaz didn’t. As a Spanish speaker, I really enjoyed that because it felt more authentic, but I people without a background in Spanish might find it frustrating. Context helps, but you might miss a line here and there.


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is book 20 of 24 for my Read Harder Challenge. You can also read my reviews of Don Quixote and My Name is Seepeetza.

An affiliate link is used in this post. All opinions in this review are my own and are not influenced by the affiliate.

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10 thoughts on “Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

  1. The story I just wrote (or rewrote lol) is supposed to imitate his use of multiple-perspective narrative. It’s fun to write in because you really get to get into the character’s head. Maybe it’s easier in shorter fiction rather than novels.

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    • I think so too (easier in shorter I mean) because it doesn’t feel so disjointed. A movie can’t follow a secondary character for 20 minutes and never return, so a book shouldn’t do the literary equivalent.

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  2. I have struggled with the issue of foreign language in an otherwise English text. I don’t like to repeat what I’ve written. It’s a tough issue. I still don’t have the answer.

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