• Bay State RA Home

  • Badge for A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour
  • RoofBeam Reader graphic
  • Posts I Like

Wow!: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Audio)

Audiobook Review — The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2008. (Yes, I am behind in my reading.) I finally came around to it after listening to Jonathan Davis narrate the audio version of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (a cyberpunk novel with a variety of accents, male and female voices, foreign phrases, cultural references, hacker jargon, and made-up words, a fast-paced plot set in a near-future America where corporations ride roughshod over government and individuals) so incredibly well that I had to hear more by Jonathan Davis. His reading of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao with Staci Snell is another tour de force of audiobook narration; he deals out Dominican-style epithets, geek references, and the dolorous histories of Oscar Wao, his family, and the Dominican Republic under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo as if he’d been talking like this all his life.
In case, like me, you were too lazy or disinclined to pick up the book when it came out (maybe because you heard it has so many unexplained references to esoteric topics from comic books to Dominican legends that it requires annotations and so many untranslated Spanish expressions that you would need a glossary) the audio edition will make all the diferencia. (Confía en mí.) If you have even a miniscule smattering of Spanish and geekery, this novel will be more enjoyable, but the audio narrators add so much attitude to the dialogue that you can gather enough meaning from the context and delivery to get by.
There are some footnoted explanations on Dominican history and legends, but why is so much left unexplained? The author explains in this Slate interview that, with this book about an outsider in the Dominican diaspora (which is already outside mainstream American culture), he wanted readers to resort to using a dictionary or to ask someone the meaning of an idiom, just as non-native English speakers often have to do. (Subtext here from the author?: If you want to read it and you don’t know Dominican slang or any Spanish at all, fine, please do, but don’t expect everything to be handed to you on a f***ing platter. )
Though Oscar de León eventually adopts it, “Oscar Wao” is a mean nickname derived from “Oscar Wilde”, given to make fun of Oscar’s ineradicable nerdness, his writing, and his dream of becoming “the Dominican Tolkien.” Unwilling or incapable of putting up social facades or pretending to be different, Oscar is an overweight geeky boy bullied by his Dominican peer group, tolerated by his few friends, disdained as a romantic prospect by girls, and prodded ineffectually by his mother and sister to lose weight, go outside, get exercise, stop reading so much fantasy and science fiction, etc. — who grows up to be an overweight, geeky adult, disowned by Dominicans and unwanted by almost everyone else.
Readers are told at the start that Oscar’s extended family is under a curse, a “fukú”. Here’s the book’s first line:

They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fukú americanus, or more colloquially, fukú–generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World.

Although there’s a lot of humor in this book, it’s gallows humor. Oscar’s is a sad, violent story; the stories from his mother, aunts, and grandparents’ lives in the Dominican Republic are bloodsoaked and tragic. Lola, Oscar’s sister, who loves him her whole life, also struggles to escape the weight of the family’s curse. The flawed characters in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao may represent the tragic political mistake of the American government (and the American people?) for backing Trujillo’s reign of terror, but they’re also fully developed characters who will linger in your mind long after the audiobook is over.

Listen to an excerpt from the Penguin audiobook edition.
This book may be available to borrow/download through your local library’s Overdrive service.

Other opinions on the audio edition of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (all good):
Audiofile
1330v: Thoughts of an Eclectic Reader

One Sentence Review

Waiting on Wednesday — The New Republic

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. This week’s pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

The New Republic

Lionel Shriver

Publication Date: March 27, 2012

The New Republic is an earlier-written book seeing the light of day now that the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin is a publishing success, according to The Book Case. It’s a humorous book about terrorists in an imaginary place in Portugal. Lionel Shriver, a woman, is an American author living in London. She writes really good novels (although We Need to Talk About Kevin is my least favorite.) Developing realistic characters and showing how they react under stress takes talent, and tackling taboo subjects takes courage, and she seems to have both.

The Things We Do for Love: Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Audio)

Audiobook Review — In Delirium by Lauren Oliver, love isn’t a drug; it’s a disease. In this near-future novel in the New England-y setting of Portland, Maine, love and all other strong emotions become a thing of the past once you turn 18. That’s when you undergo the operation known as “the procedure” that modifies your brain and cures you of all passion or any real memory of passions you once felt, allowing you to sail calmly from high school into an arranged marriage and career or, possibly, for the young women, motherhood.
As the soon-to-turn-18 narrator, Lena Haloway, has been told throughout her education, this is for the good of society — the new normal for all the pockets of civilization remaining in the world that was overrun by war, poverty, and the disease. The procedure makes it possible for government authorities to maintain the safety and structure of the enclosed society, to protect the isolated Portland citizens from the fugitives who rebelled against the procedure and escaped — the “Invalids” — who are out there in the Wilds beyond the electric fence and the armed guards, Lena suspects, but are not acknowledged by the authorities.
Just before the fateful summer after graduation when Lena gradually comes to understand that everything she’s been taught may not be true, she meets Alex, a mysterious, slightly older boy who is cured, and therefore, safe, but still seems to affect Lena in a strange and unfamiliar way. Modest, unassuming Lena realizes far later than the reader that Alex likes her (not her beautiful, rich friend Hana) but, by then, she has almost completely succumbed to the disease.
Underneath the dystopian overlay, this is a teen love story. Girl meets boy and the whole world turns upside down. The danger of Lena and Alex’s forbidden summer romance is real, however, with the punishment a lot worse than being grounded for a month, so after a slow dip in the middle, the tension in the story builds nicely as the date for Lena’s procedure gets closer. The ending leaves plenty of questions unanswered for the sequel, Pandemonium, coming out in March 2012.
Listening to Delirium, you’re never going to forget that you’re reading a young adult book aimed squarely at young female readers (and their moms), but if that’s what you’re in the mood for, it’s a good audiobook choice. Narrator Sarah Drew does a great job with the voices of the teens Lena (unsure but brave), Hana (carelessly confident), and Alex (husky/drawling/ironic) and with the adult voices. Some listeners may find Lena’s voice a bit gushy or overemotional, but over all, Sarah Drew’s narration conveys the joy and grief that Lena naturally feels but tries to repress, having been told by teachers and parents for so long that it’s not good to feel them. The adult voices, in contrast, are unemotional, suitable to a society where family ties are formed of duty rather than love.
Delirium may be available as a free audio download through Overdrive at your public library. Listen to an audio sample here.
Other opinions on the audio edition of Delirium (all mostly good):
Fyrefly’s Book Blog
A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
Good Books and Good Wine
Hooked to Books
Super Librarian

%d bloggers like this: