The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

( 167 )

Overview

This is the long-awaited first novel from one of the most original and memorable writers working today.

Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukœ-the curse that has haunted the ...

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Overview

This is the long-awaited first novel from one of the most original and memorable writers working today.

Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukœ-the curse that has haunted the Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.

D’az immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss. A true literary triumph, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao confirms Junot Diaz as one of the best and most exciting voices of our time.

Winner of the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, for Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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.
Jabari Asim
…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
Michiko Kakutani
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 together—just barely, but in the end effectively—is 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
Publishers Weekly

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.]
—Michael Adams

Kirkus Reviews
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594489587
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/6/2007
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 239,891
  • Lexile: 1010L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 1.28 (d)

Meet the Author

Junot Díaz’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Best American Short Stories. His highly-anticipated first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was greeted with rapturous reviews, including Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times calling it “a book that decisively establishes him as one of contemporary fiction's most distinctive and irresistible new voices.” His debut story collection, Drown, published eleven years prior to Oscar Wao, was also met with unprecedented acclaim; it became a national bestseller, won numerous awards, and has since grown into a landmark of contemporary literature. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey, Díaz lives in New York City and is a professor of creative writing at MIT.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 167 )
Rating Distribution

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(29)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 217 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2008

    Doesn't live up to the hype.

    After reading so many positive reviews and hearing about the numerous awards this book won, I was extremely anxious to get my hands on a copy. Once I did, however, I was disappointed. I was expecting Diaz's style to be much more subtle and sophisticated, based on what I'd read in the reviews, and was rather underwhelmed by his style of prose. The characters had the potential to be very interesting, but I think the author tried to delve too deeply into too many of them, thus leaving the reader with a shallow impression of all. Oscar, especially, disappointed me. While he may not be a typical DR boy, he is the standard nerdy American boy stereotype. I almost felt as if I was reading a random YA paperback with subpar writing and a so-so plot. I enjoyed the supernatural elements of the book, but they were so few and far between, and examined so briefly, that Diaz might as well just have left them out. The Spanish sentences and the footnotes didn't bother me. If I don't understand something, I can always find an internet translation site, and while the footnotes did drag a bit at times, my understanding of the book would have been severely prohibited without them. Overall, not a bad book by any means, but certainly not one of my favorites. Perhaps if my expectations hadn't been so high to start with I would have enjoyed it more.

    26 out of 35 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2008

    Confounded By the Acclaim

    As a big fan of minority voices in literature, I was eager to read Junot Diaz¿s debut novel. I was impressed by his writing style in the few short stories I read from his collection of short stories Drown. They uniquely, playfully, and insightfully recounted a sort of trans-national, immigrant identity from the Dominican Republic to the New York/ New Jersey empire. Expecting The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to reflect this same sort of literary aptitude, I must say I was let down. Diaz attempts to create the complete anti- stereotype of a Dominican. He creates a corpulent, fantasy obsessed, gamer. Oscar spends his days like a typical nerd- using an elevated and convoluted vocabulary, spending hours in front of the tv and computer screen, and daydreaming endlessly about all the beautiful girls he sees but will never touch. The only unique thing about Oscar is that he happens to be much darker than the typical nerd would be. Not that nerds can¿t be interesting, it¿s just that Diaz doesn¿t give him any other traits besides that. Oscar is an archetype. What¿s more, it seems that with the creation of Oscar¿s character Diaz wants to debunk stereotypes of minority, namely Latino, characters. In listing everything that makes Oscar unDominican- that he¿s the antiplayer, that he spends his time gaming not gang banging, that he chooses to act educated- he in fact reinforces stereotypes against urban Latinos. Another character, Yunior, who is also the narrator, almost fits this stereotype perfectly, except that he is sensitive enough to write all this stuff down. And I realize his vantage point is from the street, which can be a very interesting one, but there¿s not enough sophistication in his voice to overshadow his blatant and sometimes gratuitous use of street slang. There are plenty of ways to make a character street and sophisticated at the same time. The mothers in this story whose personalities are shaped by lives back on the island also do not offer much in the way of a unique identity. They are basically what one would expect of a Dominican woman- lady in the streets, freak in the sheets type thing. The island itself becomes one big stereotype- a place where machismo is so thick you could pierce it with the bullets from the guns that all the gangsters running around have. Come on Diaz, make us Latinos proud and give us some characters that have more than 2 dimensions. The intrigue of the plot itself ebbs and flows. Some points I find myself very entertained, and at others I am wondering where the hell Diaz got this stuff. It¿s kinda random. Oscar falling in love with a prostie? While the contrast between a paranoid and vigilant life on the island and the carefree life in the States is apparent, the connection between these two spheres is just too¿ contrived. And beware: tragedy abounds. All that said, I still have faith in Mr. Diaz. He himself has said that all novels have bad chapters. Except in his case, most of the chapters aren¿t very good. Since this is his first novel, I¿ll give him a break. I can¿t wait to see his third or fourth. Then, I¿ll be excited again.

    6 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2008

    Amazing

    I was blown away by the plot of the story. This is truely an imaginative tale.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2008

    amazing writing

    easily one of the best books i've read in the past ten years

    3 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2008

    Ugh!!!!

    Pulitzer Prize winning novel? I don't think so. . . I was so excited to finally read this novel based on the reviews that I had heard. The plot sounded good but about 60 pages in, I lost all interest in the book and finished it just to finish it. Way too much time was devoted to the mother's story and very little to the three characters as a whole. I was sorely disappointed with the Pulitzer Board's choice seeing as Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs came out in the same year. . . Oh, well here's hoping next year's committee does a better job.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2008

    Okay-not great

    I did not like how most of the book was a footnote. If I wanted a history lesson on the D.R. I would of read a history book. All I wanted was a good story to read. I didn't like how there were no quotation marks either. The story was sad and dark.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2008

    The Power of Wao

    Not just in Oscar but in all minority lives around the world, Junot Diaz captures disenfranchisement. Oscar Wao is the young acne faced preteen, the legging covered corpulent housewife, the hijab covered Muslim in downtown Manhattan, the mentally unstable homeless, the amputee, the scarred....The needs and longings of all are revealed in his character as well as the fear, cruelty and irrationality of those who judge him. A remarkable book that took me on a journey through life.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2013

    Well trained writer...

    The ending was terrible. Whatever the author had to say about life I didn't agree with.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2013

    This book was a little boring.  I loved the narrative and some o

    This book was a little boring.  I loved the narrative and some of the imagery.  But, I didn't think the plot was very interesting.  I found myself drifting often and rather disappointed.  It wasn't bad at all, but it wasn't one of my favorites. 

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    How many times can you say the N word?

    I found the language irritating and so disconnected. How many times can you say the N word? I if you like fiction that is so disconnected from reality this book for you.

    The pronunciation and spelling of the N word is very different in the hood.

    Google it!!!

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2009

    I FINISHED IT JUST FOR THE SAKE OF FINISHING IT

    The random jumps into spanish was not even the worst part of this book, although i did find myself reading next to my computer and googling a bunch of spanish words. but the biggest complaint i have is that the story just lagged, there were a few key moments in it but for the most part i just found myself coasting through paragraphs. The writing style is also really annoying, the author refused to insert a single quotation mark and the way the story is organized into big chunks of different people's lives forces you to try and get intersted in the story all over again. I can understand a Dominican enjoying the book and the the sheer redundancy of the story, but for a reader who doesnt give a rats @$$ about the DM it got really boring. and ps; oscar wao is not a very memorable character, and is barely mentioned throughout large portions of the story. dont waste your time with this book

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2008

    A beautiful story, even through the strong language

    I usually rate a book by it´s ending (how many times do we get built up just to be disapointed by the ending) and this one has a great one. Don't expect a mind-blowing twist, as things go just as the title suggests, but as you learn about and get to know the characters, you can't help but feel genuinely happy fo Oscar and how it all ends. I do, however, have a bittersweet taste in my mouth from it, given that it portrays dominican men as insensitive, fidelity incapable jerks, being Oscar Himself the only exception. Again, he is a 'nerd', and the author suggets that that is weird amongst dominican men, thus reinforcing the stereotype. I understand why some people felt frustrated over the book having all this parts in spanish, but understanding the book will be different for each reader. This book must be read with and open mind, or not read at all.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2008

    Bad

    I bought this book and returned it after the first couple of chapters. I have no spanish, which made some of it difficult, but overall I found it boring, hard to engage with.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2014

    Good story

    Had some difficulty with some of the slang, but it was a god read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2014

    Gabriel

    Hail Mary...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013

    Wow...

    This is one of those books that makes me wish I was classically trained as a writer. For I know with reasonable certainty I have not the words in english or spanish to drive home how good this book is, how dynamic a writer Junot Diaz is, nor how much you will get attached to and root for the characters. Alas, I must try...

    The story of Oscar Wao will yank you from laughing out loud, to tragedy, to hope, to pity, to love, to disdain and back to laughing out loud again. To say the characters are brilliantly fleshed out might even be an understatement. I've never read a book in which I rooted for so many, with paths so different yet intertwined.

    The book also speaks of the terrible toll the Trujillo dictatorship took on the Dominican Republic from roughly 1930 to 1965. But not in a boring, purely historical way. So many of the decisions made and the lives affected were a direct result of living under the shadow of a sadistic regime whose head seemed omnipresent and demanded a perverse loyalty.

    Written in a hip spanglish prose that might irritate spanish neophytes, I'd recommend quick access to google translate if necessary.

    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is one the best books Ive ever read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2013

    Love it

    Love this book
    i cant put it down

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2013

    Interesting

    An atypical plot. Good if you are in search of something different to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2013

    I absolutely loved this book! Diaz's writing style is different

    I absolutely loved this book! Diaz's writing style is different and may take some time getting used to, but the story is fantastic. I was more and more captivated the further I got into the book. I liked the tying together of the history of the Dominican Republic and the family's history. The story is so in-depth and detailed and is really very creative. It's definitely one of the best books I've read in a very long time.  

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2013

    Greay bk

    It was terrible

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