Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
By AMY XU
Originally published June 2013
Junot Díaz isn’t one for pretense.
So when Mr. Díaz wrote “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” he didn’t place the masses at the heart of his story as so many chroniclers of cultural suffering had done before him. In his account of the calamities of Dominican history, Mr. Díaz looks away from the crowds and focuses of the sorrows of a single family. In turn, without impersonal designations like ‘the people’ to hide behind, the action is never tempered and the emotion is never dulled. All of a sudden Mr. Díaz’s multigenerational story of suffering becomes all the more real—and all the more poignant.
Mr. Díaz’s amazing ability to work the intimate in with the big is what makes his writing so relatable. Throughout the story, the inconceivable horrors of a dictatorial regime are seamlessly weaved together with the comparatively mundane—strained family relationships, disillusionments of the American Dream, failed romance, and that all-too-familiar teenage spirit. And the one unifying element that brings it all together? None other than the immigrant experience, a theme common to all of Mr. Díaz’s writing. Mr. Diaz addresses the immigrant experience in a way that’s never been done before. He details everything from nature of love to video games, and it’s always incredibly true to his unique perspective.
But even more so than his dynamic plots, it’s Mr. Diaz’s voice that’s truly extraordinary. In other words, chico knows how to write. Diaz’s narrative style is something remarkable. Sprinkled with slang and curses, it’s simply stated, yet startling profound. With his quick commentary, it’s self-aware, but never full of itself. It’s all at once funny, smart, and engaging. Diaz’s style has a vibrant quality that isn’t seen very often. He took a different direction than most with his writing, and in the process, he made a place for himself as one of the great American writers of today. Junot Diaz has ánimo—and a voice that will influence writers for generations to come.