Well, I read the latest Pulitzer winner this week – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz — and I’m not sure exactly how to review it. Am I glad I read it? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Mostly. Do I recommend it? Well… this is the answer that has me searching. I guess I would answer with a qualified yes. If you speak Spanish, then definitely read it. If you don’t speak Spanish, but are not bothered by Diaz’s inclusion of over 300 Spanish words and phrases (many not quite clear from context) AND promise to read the ENTIRE novel, then I would say yes.
First, the language issue. I have never minded reading books that included non-English words and phrases. Usually the meaning is clear enough through context and I have the benefit of teaching Greek and Latin roots for 15 years so I can usually muddle through well enough. But there were over 300 Spanish words/phrases in this novel and, at times, the meaning was quite important and not clear. Now, if you’re wondering why in the world I counted — well, I was taking notes for a kit. My inclusion of a vocabulary list in my A Thousand Splendid Suns kit was a primary reason for it becoming my best-seller (I know this because my site meter allows me to see what search words bring people to my site and ultimately to a sale). So, if you think your book club might be interested in Oscar, give me another week and my kit will be ready.
Now, why am I so emphatic that you finish the novel once begun? Because the narrative structure is key to the overall strength and meaning of this novel. If you stop after the first 50 pages, you may think — as I did — how in the world did a novel that references J. Lo and Dungeons & Dragons win the Pulitzer?!? And, personally, I thought the Lord of the Rings and many, many, many other gaming / fantasy allusions were overdone. But I appreciated what Diaz was doing by the time I was near the end.
On an undiluted positive note, Diaz creates a vivid sense of place (Dominican Republic) and fully realized characters. The story is quite compelling and fast-paced (despite the Spanish vocab), and Diaz’s tone is movingly ambivalent, especially regarding his home country. His scorn, pity, and frustration regarding Trujillo’s reign is palpable — but does not diminish his love for the characters.
So, like Diaz’s tone, my opinion of his masterpiece is ambivalent, but I have already requested his first work Drown.
On a much lighter note, I also finished Broken For You — which fulfilled its early promise! Thank you to my friend Monica for recommending it, by the way. I have yet to read one of her recommendations that I did not love. And I, in turn, strongly recommend it as well — I actually miss the characters now that I have finished.
I decided to save Remains of the Day for next weekend and read In An Instant by Lee and Bob Woodruff instead. In an Instant is the story of the ABC anchor’s journey to recovery after he was hit by a road-side bomb in Iraq. My husband recommended this a few months ago, and I found it very hard to put down. Lee and Bob take turns expressing their individual experiences and it was interesting to read both perspectives.
By the way, I will be upgrading to Word Press 2.5.1 this week, so if anything weird happens to the site, please know that I’m working on it… Who knows? Maybe the upgrade will go without a hitch!