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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz I don't necessarily recommend this book to everyone, contrary to the headline of the message I sent to my Goodreads friends a couple days ago. At the time I was experimenting with Goodreads features. I thought I'd found a quick way to send a message to my friends and tell them I was please that the author of this book had recently been interviewed on NPR. I felt some consternation when I found that my message led with the bold headline, "Clif has sent you a book recommendation!" I feared my message was lost under that bold headline. So I've now finished the book and can provide you with my final review.

This is a well written book with a compelling story if the reader manages to make it to the end. After completing the book the reader can see the overall framework of how the curse of the dictator Trujillo decimated multiple generations of one family from the Dominican Republic. Along the way we learn the details of a broken family with dysfunctional relationships. They seem to think that a family conversation should consist of shouting insults at each other. The character Oscar seems to be an exception to the shouting part, but he has his own problems. He's fat and ugly with no friends. His main goal in life is to not die a virgin, which for him is a big challenge. His preoccupation with sex is hard enough to stomach, but we learn that others in this story are preoccupied with sex in their own ways. This is largely a story of multiple generations of young people from a Latin culture. This book reinforces the prevailing stereotype for both adolescents and Latin cultures that they're preoccupied with sex. The main narrator for most of the book seems to be proud of his stud-ly-ness in what I found to be a very disgusting way. All the characters in this story are black Dominicans or Dominican/Americans so at times I wondered if an old white guy like me should be allowed be exposed to these stereotypes.

Beyond these shortcomings, this book provides an inside look at the 20th Century history of the Dominican Republic. The story peels like an onion starting with Oscar, then his sister, then their mother, then Oscar in college, and then Oscar's grandfather. The tension heightens with each peal of the onion as the story generally progresses backward chronologically. With the story of the grandfather we are made aware of life under a horrible dictator. The story then jumps around the time line of events until Oscar is driven to take idealistic but stupid actions near the end of the story.

I think the book deserves the Pulitzer Prize that it received, but I'm only giving it three stars because frankly, the story wasn't an enjoyable read. It's an a emotional downer. I compliment the author on arranging to have a young child alive at the end who is the hope for breaking the curse in the future. So there is that small ray of hope at the end which helps make the story tolerable.