Ten years after his acclaimed short story collection Drowned, Junot Diaz returns with a lollapalooza of a debut novel centered on a grotesquely overweight Dominican-American teenager named Oscar. Lonely, loveless, and living almost completely inside his own head, Oscar is a "ghetto nerd" whose multiple obsessions include comic books, fantasy fiction, and supremely unobtainable women. In a story that moves back and forth between the Dominican Republic and Paterson, New Jersey, Diaz illuminates the tragic arc of Dominican history (especially under the brutal Trujillo regime) in the lives of Oscar's sister, mother, grandmother, and aunt. Shot through with witty cultural footnotes, scabrous slang, and touches of magic realism, this heartbreaking family saga is a work of brave originality.
…weirdly wonderful …Oscar clearly is not intended to function as a hero in the classical sense. Is he meant primarily to symbolize the tangled significance of desire, exile and homecoming? Or is he a 307-lb. warning that only slim guys get the girls? Are we to wring from his ample flesh more of that anguished diaspora stuff? Could be, but I find sufficient meaning in the sheer joy of absorbing Diaz's sentences, each rolled out with all the nerdy, wordy flair of an audacious imagination and a vocabulary to match…Diaz pulls it off with the same kind of eggheaded urban eloquence found in the work of Paul Beatty (The White Boy Shuffle), Victor LaValle (Slapboxing with Jesus), Mat Johnson (Drop) and his very own Drown. Geek swagger, baby. Get used to it.
The Washington Post
Junot Diaz's Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a wondrous, not-so-brief first novel that is so original it can only be described as Mario Vargas Llosa meets "Star Trek" meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West. It is funny, street-smart and keenly observed, and it unfolds from a comic portrait of a second-generation Dominican geek into a harrowing meditation on public and private history and the burdens of familial history. An extraordinarily vibrant book that's fueled by adrenaline-powered prose, it's confidently steered through several decades of history by a madcap, magpie voice that's equally at home talking about Tolkien and Trujillo, anime movies and ancient Dominican curses, sexual shenanigans at Rutgers University and secret police raids in Santo Domingo…It is Mr. Diaz's achievement in this galvanic novel that he's fashioned both a big picture window that opens out on the sorrows of Dominican history, and a small, intimate window that reveals one family's life and loves. In doing so, he's written a book that decisively establishes him as one of contemporary fiction's most distinctive and irresistible new voices.
The New York Times
A. O. Scott
In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Diaz, the author of a book of sexy, diamond-sharp stories called Drown, shows impressive high-low dexterity, flashing his geek credentials, his street wisdom and his literary learning with equal panache…Diaz's novel also has a wild, capacious spirit, making it feel much larger than it is. Within its relatively compact span, [it] contains an unruly multitude of styles and genres. The tale of Oscar's coming-of-age is in some ways the book's thinnest layer, a young-adult melodrama draped over a multigenerational immigrant family chronicle that dabbles in tropical magic realism, punk-rock feminism, hip-hop machismo, post-postmodern pyrotechnics and enough polymorphous multiculturalism to fill up an Introduction to Cultural Studies syllabus. Holding all this togetherjust barely, but in the end effectivelyis a voice that is profane, lyrical, learned and tireless, a riot of accents and idioms coexisting within a single personality.
The New York Times Book Review
What a bargain to have Díaz's short story collection, Drown, included (on the last five CDs) with the talented, emerging Dominican-American writer's first novel. Davis reads both superbly. He captures not only the fat, virginal, impractical Oscar, but he also gives a sexy vigor to Yunior, who serves as narrator and Oscar's polar opposite. Davis also gives voice to Oscar's mother, Beli, whose fukúcurse infects the entire family, except for Oscar's sister, Lola, performed in a flat voice by Snell, whose performance overlooks Lola's energy and resolve. Both Snell and Davis move easily from English to Spanish/Spanglish and back again, as easily as the characters emigrate from the Dominican Republic to Paterson, N.J., only to be drawn back inexorably to their native island. Listeners unfamiliar with Spanish may have difficulty following some of the dialogue. However, it's better to lose a few sentences than to miss Davis's riveting performance, perfect pace and rich voice, which are perfectly suited to Díaz's brilliant work. Simultaneous release with the Riverhead hardcover (Reviews, June 18). (Sept.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal
Díaz's remarkable debut novel tells the story of a lonely outsider with zest rather than pathos. Oscar grows up in a Dominican neighborhood in Paterson, NJ, as an overweight, homely lover of sf and fantasy. Reading such books and trying to emulate them in his own writing provide Oscar's only pleasure. What he really wants is love, but his romantic overtures are constantly rejected. The author balances Oscar's story with glances at the history of the Dominican Republic, focusing on the Rafael Trujillo dictatorship and its effect on Oscar's family. Díaz masterfully shifts between Oscar and his sister, mother, and grandfather to give this intimate character study an epic scale, showing that an individual life is the product of family history. Jonathan Davis's sensitive reading captures the romantic quest of the hero and the tragedy of life under Trujillo, and Staci Snell ably reads the alternating chapters dealing with Oscar's sister and mother. Also included is Drown, a collection of stories by Díaz. Highly recommended for all collections. [This book is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.-Ed.]
A rich, impassioned vision of the Dominican Republic and its diaspora, filtered through the destiny of a single family. After a noted debut volume of short stories (Drown, 1996), Diaz pens a first novel that bursts alive in an ironic, confiding, exuberant voice. Its wider focus is an indictment of the terrible Trujillo regime and its aftermath, but the approach is oblique, traced backwards via the children (Oscar and Lola) of a larger-than-life but ruined Dominican matriarch, Beli. In earthy, streetwise, Spanish-interlaced prose, Diaz links overweight, nerdy fantasist Oscar, his combative, majestic sister and their once Amazonian mother to the island of their ancestry. There, an aunt, La Inca, with strange, possibly supernatural powers, heals and saves Beli after her involvement with one of Trujillo's minor henchman, who was married to the dictator's sister. Beli, at age14, had naively hoped this affair would lead to marriage and family, but instead her pregnancy incurred a near-fatal beating, after which she fled to New Jersey to a life of drudgery, single parenting and illness. By placing sad, lovelorn, virginal Oscar at the book's heart, Diaz softens the horrors visited on his antecedents, which began when Trujillo cast his predatory eye on wealthy Abelard Cabral's beautiful daughter. Was the heap of catastrophes that ensued fuku (accursed fate), Diaz asks repeatedly, and can there be counterbalancing zafa (blessing)? The story comes full circle with Oscar's death in Santo Domingo's fateful cornfields, himself the victim of a post-Trujillo petty tyrant, but it's redeemed by the power of love. Despite a less sure-footed conclusion, Diaz's reverse family saga, crossedwithwitheringpolitical satire, makes for a compelling, sex-fueled, 21st-century tragi-comedy with a magical twist.
From the Publisher
"Funny, street-smart and keenly observed.... An extraordinarily vibrant book that's fueled by adrenaline-powered prose.... A book that decisively establishes [Díaz] as one of contemporary fiction's most distinctive and irresistible new voices." -Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times "Terrific... Narrated in high-energy Spanglish, the book is packed with wide-ranging cultural references - to Dune, Julia Alvarez, The Sound of Music - as well as erudite and hilarious footnotes on Caribbean history. It is a joy to read, and every bit as exhilarating to reread." -Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly "Astoundingly great.... You could call The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao the saga of an immigrant family, but that wouldn't really be fair. It's an immigrant-family saga for people who don't read immigrant-family sagas." -Lev Grossman, Time "Now that Díaz's second book, a novel called The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, has finally arrived, younger writers will find that the bar. And some older writers - we know who we are - might want to think about stepping up their game. Oscar Wao shows a novelist engaged with the culture, high and low, and its polyglot language." -David Gates, Newsweek "In the imagination of many writers it is the untold stories that propel-those vibrant, colorful, magical, historical swirls of humanity that make up our knowing. Junot Díaz's wondrous first novel offers that and more, enchanting us with energetic poetry and offering us a splendid portrait of ordinary folks set against the extraordinary cruel history of the Dominican Republic in the 20th century. Those of us who have for years known and marveled at Mr. Díaz's stories will not be disappointed." -Edward P. Jones