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Customer Review

90 of 100 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ironic verdict on the Dominican Republic, 2 April 2008
This review is from: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Paperback)
This is a good book. I'm English, not merely old but "old school", so a full-length novel written in "hip" American ghetto slang and liberally peppered with Spanish terms and phrases unknown to my large Collins Spanish Dictionary, and with a heavy reliance on references to science and fantasy fiction and comic books (all of which I despise), I would not usually touch with a barge-pole, but I loved this one and neglected my other duties until I had finished it.

I have read most of the ninety-odd reviews of the book on Amazon UK and US and I think that many readers miss the point when they complain that the title is a misnomer because only a small part of the book describes Oscar's "life" and that while he may be a physically well-rounded person his character is flat and clichéd. The title surely is ironic. Oscar has really neither a life or a personality to speak of. He is just a peg on which to hang an analysis of Dominican society on the island and in New York, which the author perceives to be generally nasty. It is Dominican "culture" itself which is the "fukú" and bad things and bad people will inevitably surface because the whole fabric is built on rotten foundations of ignorance, greed and racism. You could almost say that the heart of the book is in its historic footnotes.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 Aug 2009 13:38:39 BDT
"The title surely is ironic. Oscar has really neither a life or a personality to speak of. " - The character is based on Junot Diaz himself. A Pulitzer-prize winner does not have a life? Who, then, does? Originally Oscar's story was published in the New Yorker as a short, and the story in that focused almost exclusively on Oscar. Besides, just because you yourself despise comics, sci-fi etc doesn't mean being into such things is not a 'life', it's a better choice than a lot of alternatives.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Jan 2010 00:42:21 GMT
deadbeat says:
But I think you will have to agree that the title is ironic. And, whatever your opinions on sci-fi, Oscar's life was deeply unhappy, and his personality was fraught with flaws.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Sep 2010 01:37:00 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Sep 2010 02:39:44 BDT
But I don't accept the title is ironic - 'wondrous' perhaps is ironic but this could refer to any number of things. I don't subscribe to the view that someone has a 'life' or not. We all do, and it's a value judgment to suggest someone does not.

Having done a bit of research, Diaz says the title is an allusion both to Oscar Wilde, and Hemingway's 'The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber'. He says both of those were concerned about masculinity, love and failure of men to find the love they want. So there we have it, not really a straightforward case of irony, I feel.

While our reviewer friend 'riverside' and perhaps yourself may not feel Oscar has a life, I don't feel Junot Diaz thinks Oscar is lifeless - there's a lot of compassion for him in the narrative. Oscar was unhappy and has personality flaws - but this doesn't mean a lack of life - indeed Oscar's burning need for love and his sacrifice for love make him a tragic hero. Riverside doesn't like the character of Oscar and finds him 'flat and cliched' fine, but the professional reviewers speak of the 'unforgettable characters' in the book. If Oscar really had no life he wouldn't be worth writing about, would he?

I may regret admitting this but I share many of Oscar's traits and feel I do have a life worth living. So, I want to defend the book because I identify with Oscar, but also because it's a marvellous novel as well.
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