Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 1, 2008

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), by Junot Diaz

Well, I’ve tried to like this book, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2008.  I went to an author event at Readings, and left prematurely because I did not care for the author, Junot Diaz, a supercilious young man who took every opportunity to use filthy language in a puerile and rather nasty attempt to shock his audience.  I wasn’t shocked: I just didn’t like him and his inane attitude. 

So having gone to Readings with the express purpose of buying his book, I came away –  not empty handed, of course, since there were plenty of other nice books to buy – but without his.  Then, since ANZLL friends whose opinion I value recommended it, I acquired a copy from the library….

It’s not often I put a book aside without finishing it.  A writer myself, I know the hard work and good intentions that go into producing a work of fiction, and in general I respect that and give the author a fair go.  As an experienced reader, I also know that many books require patient and intelligent reading to reveal their mysteries.  But TBWOOW is tiresome.  I dutifully read the 50 pages a book always deserves, and I’m not going on with it.  I cannot muster any interest in its central character, I find the patronising footnotes about Dominican history and culture irritating, and if I ever have the misfortune to meet anyone who talks like the narrator in Spanglish, I shall make polite excuses to get away as quickly as possible. 

So, notwithstanding the fine minds of the judges of the Pulitzer Prize and the glowing reviews referencing its debt to Hemingway (really??), this one joins the very small group of books that I will not waste my precious reading time on.


  1. Hi Anz,

    I feel your pain. I also didn’t like the book for many of the same reasons you mentioned. (Check out my post on it…I’d be interested to see if you agree with any of my thoughts.) However, since it’s part of my goal to start reading the long list of Pulitzer Prize winners I forced myself to finish it.

    It was hard.

    Anyway, you caught my attention when you mentioned Oscar Wao had been compared to Hemingway. I haven’t really read a lot of reviews on the book (I don’t like to have any pesky preconceived notions in my head while reading) and was wondering if you could point me in the direction of some of these reviews. If you can’t remember where you read them, no worries. Just thought that is a pretty interesting remark for someone to make….Like you said…really??


  2. Hi, nice to hear from you – I love people who bother to comment! I’d love to read your blog but – please post again with the URL.
    I found the comment about the title being a reference to Hemingway at and again at
    I also found a heap of other reviews when I simply Googled the title. It may help get better results for you if you add +review to the title in the search box, because Google ‘remembers’ the kinds of sites you like (I think).
    Do you belong to the Pulitzer group on Yahoo, or is your literary quest a personal one?


  3. I agree wholeheartedly with your review Lisa! I didn’t care for this book at all, and also didn’t finish it. Interesting that the author presented himself so unfavorably in real life — much like the book’s main character, if memory serves?

    I made a start at reading all Pulitzer Prize winners (I’ve read 28) and enjoyed most of what I read, but many of the unread ones just didn’t appeal to me. I’ve had better luck with Booker & Orange winners/nominees.


    • Hi Laura,
      Strange, that, I haven’t had much luck with the Pulitzers either, and yet much of what US literature I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed. Is there a perpetual challenge blog like the Booker and the Nobels that you are posting your reviews on?


  4. Oh no!! I was really looking forward to this book. I have only ever heard wonderful things about it, and although its been on my shelves for awhile, I always look at it and think “I can’t wait to read you!”.

    But I trust your taste in book sso now im worried. I hope I like it!


    • Becky, you are *so* nice – that is a lovely thing to say *blush*.
      But maybe it’s just that it’s not my kind of book? I mean, it can’t be a bad book, not if it won the Pultizer!
      I’ll be looking out for your review to find out:)


  5. I agree with you lisa I finished it but couldn’t for the first time see the hype behind the book but not first american book to hit a hollow note with me after hype netherland was same as well ,all the best stu


    • Well, Stu, I think publishers need to be careful when they hype a book. Of course, it depends what market they’re after, but I have been caught too many times now, and if the hype is huge then I leave that book until I can borrow it from the library. Lisa


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