The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

oscar-waoOscar is a fat nerdy Dominican kid, living in New Jersey with aspirations of becoming the next JRR Tolkein.  Life isn’t easy for him, with disloyal friends, a cranky mother and a complete lack of female interest.  Perhaps more worrying than this is the fuku – the curse that has tormented his family for generations.  His only real ally is Lola, his big sister, who has troubles of her own to contend with.

This book is mostly written from the perspective of Yunior, our fictional narrator.  It is unusual in that it is written as Yunior would speak, peppered with Spanish slang, geeky comic book references and plenty of footnotes about Dominican History.  Incidentally, the footnotes are written by Yunior, not Diaz himself and therefore are to be read as part of the story.

Yunior starts off by telling us about Oscar’s childhood.  From here the book moves on to Lola’s story, Oscar’s mum’s story, Oscar’s Grandparents’ story before moving onto Yunior himself and then back to Oscar.  This is a peculiar structure for a novel, but not unheard of and it’s one that works really well in this case

It was interesting to learn about the history of the Dominican Republic (I knew zilch beforehand) but the slang and cultural references made it a good fun way of reading. There’s a touch of magical realism added by the fuku, but this is mostly a sub-plot.

There’s tragedy here, but humour too and in Oscar, Junot Diaz has created an entertaining anti-hero.  The villain of the book is really Trujillo, the real life dictator of Dominican Republic until 1952 who’s actions impact on Oscar, and ordinary Dominicans to this day.

Sample Text:

“His adolescent nerdiness vaporizing any iota of a chance he had for young love. Everybody else going through the terror and joy of their first crushes, their first dates, their first kisses while Oscar sat in the back of the class, behind his DM’s screen, and watched his adolescence stream by. Sucks to be left out of adolescence, sort of like getting locked in the closet on Venus when the sun appears for the first time in a hundred years.”


Further reading:

If you like the cultural history you might like Memoirs of a Geisha

If you like the magical realism you might like One Hundred Years of Solitude

If you like the story’s structure you might like Cloud Atlas

If you like the cultural references you might like Coconut Unlimited


A Study In Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study In Scarlet - the first Sherlock Holmes novel

A Study In Scarlet – the first Sherlock Holmes novel

Whilst trying to tick books off from my BBC Big Read list I decided to read the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  After reading the first few paragraphs it became clear that I was attempting to read the stories out of sequence.  This just won’t do for my petty mind so I went straight online and downloaded the complete Sherlock Holmes for the bargain price of nothing.

A Study in Scarlet is the first Holmes novel and is narrated from the beginning by Watson, following their first encounter, subsequent friendship and sleuthing work.  I rather liked the way that Watson seemed quite baffled throughout by Holmes eccentricity, not to mention his morphine and cocaine addictions.  This aspect was one I wasn’t expecting and made the story seemed a lot fresher than I’d anticipated.

I’ve always enjoyed a good detective story and this is a good’un, but all of a sudden it transplants itself over to Mormon territory, U.S of A.  What’s all that about?  Turns out, it’s explaining the back story to the crime, but whilst it’s an interesting account, I kind of missed Holmes and Watson a bit.

Obviously I won’t say much of the crime they’re investigating or the outcome, but there’s a body, some footprints, one word written on the wall and a wedding ring involved.  Suffice to say, it’s all wrapped up very nicely at the end.  Well it had to be didn’t it?

One of these days I’ll get round to reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in the meantime, the next in the sequence is The Sign Of The Four.

Sample Text:

“By a man’s finger-nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boots, by his trouser-knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt-cuff — By each of these things a man’s calling is plainly revealed. That all united should fail to enlighten the competent inquirer in any case is almost inconceivable. You know that a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick; and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all.”

Further Reading:

If you like Holmes and Watson you may like The Sign Of Four

If you like a good old fashioned detective story you might like The Woman In White