The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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 ...
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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 fukú – 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.

Diaz 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: 9781594483295
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/2/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,470
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Junot Diaz's fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Best American Short Stories. His debut story collection, Drown, was a publishing sensation of unprecedented acclaim, became a national bestseller, won numerous awards, and is now a landmark of contemporary literature. He was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, and now lives in New York City and Boston, where he teaches at MIT.
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 175 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2010

    Interesting and Different

    This books is interesting in that it is fairly compelling, but definitely offbeat. As an English teacher, I find some of the slang and strange sentence structure slightly off-putting, but certainly not enough to put the book down. I find Latin American history/culture extremely fascinating, so the novel's take on the Trujillo Era is quite engaging. I would recommend it to a friend, but it is neither light nor easy reading,so better for a book club/somewhat serious read than escapist or beach reading...

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2008

    Doesn't live up to the hype

    I am a hispanic female and I did understand the Spanish parts of the book but unfortunately that was really all I understood. At times the book was interesting but at other times it just dragged on. The history of the mother was way too long! At times I couldn't tell who was actually telling the story. I thought it was just me but after reading some other reviews I see that others had the same problems. I was really disappointed that this book didn't live up to all the hype surrounding it. Sorry, this was NOT my favorite book.

    8 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2008

    A Difficult Read

    In terms of depicting inner city life, it is obvious that the author knows what he is talking about. <BR/><BR/>However, for a reader who was finding it unpleasant to be bombarded with challenging language very frequently; it can be a very rough and tough read. I made the mistake while taking my family on an outing of putting the cd into the car player. Whoa. This Pulitzer Prize offering was quickly removed. Having said that in terms of trying to read and understand the Spanglish also proved not as enjoyable as I would have liked.<BR/><BR/>It is an interesting study in urban culture and warrents a look...far away from the children that is. But having said that, I was more than shocked to see that it won the Pulitzer Prize. <BR/><BR/>C- overall<BR/><BR/>Bentley

    7 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 18, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A crude and humorous mix of reality and fiction

    Book Review: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

    The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz is definitely not an ordinary book. and not to be read lightheartedly. It is written in lively voices of the characters in mix of English and Spanish, jumping from time to time and characters to the other. It tells the story of the De Leon Family, consisting of the Single Mother, Bel&#237;cia, and her children, Lola and Oscar. Bel&#237;cia's story tells the tale of her youth, when she was so recklessly in love with men and the disaster the love brings to her. Lola's story consists of a growing woman trying to find her freedom within her rocky relationship with her mother. Oscar, the main boy, tries to find true romance with his heavy body and geeky tastes, and ends up meeting his own "happy" doom. A strong curse (or 'F&#250;ku', as the family calls it) seems to follow this family from 1944~1995, and the characters struggle to survive and find their destiny within it.

    The book is not particularly an easy reading, for there are so many jumps. Time jumps almost randomly every chapter, and at this change, the narrator, place, and people flips back and forth. Also, the author provides an inside-out history of the Trujillo dictatorship in Dominican Republic in side notes, which deeply related with the story base. Violence and injustice is strong in the story, and you'll be taken back by the intensity of emotions. Despite the strong themes, there are still humor and romance (although sometimes politically wrong), and draws its readers into the true read-through oh humanness

    I recommend The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to those who like a story with fast pace, and a mix of fiction with reality. Also, the book contains many aspects, from violence to humor, and is good to re-read. For those who does not like so much changes in plot from chapter to chapter, this book might not be as capturing to you.

    In overall, this book opened my eyes to a new type of literature with its direct 'street' language, talking about very possible events. I strongly recommend this book to be read smoothly and through the night, and hope that you experience the excitement in it too.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I really liked this book!!

    I really enjoyed this book.

    It tells the story of Oscar de Leon (nicknamed Oscar Wao in reference to Oscar Wilde). He sees himself as the antithesis of what a Dominican male should be. Overweight, bookish, SF movie watching, journal writing , and worst of all NO luck with the ladies. His story is told from several points of view (his own, his sister Lola, his friend Yunior, and other family members).

    They take us on a journey through Oscar's life, and also through the birth and reasons behind the family fuku (bad karma) that flows through every action and possible outcome, predetermining the worst outcome. You get a up close look at the Dominican Republic's history especially the era of the dictator Trujillo, a regime as oppressive as any dictator in history, that operated for over 40 years in obscurity to the outside world, but with devastating consequence to the people, including Oscar and his family.

    The characters are believable, neither glorified nor reviled, just trying to survive. They leave the Dominican and immigrate to Nuevo Yol in search of freedom and a better life. But what can be done with the ever present fuku? It seems you cannot escape!

    I found Oscar and his family's story fascinating. Each generations struggle to escape the repressive situation in which they live and struggle toward a better life. Oscar struggles to become a man and find love and happiness in his life. Will he succeed? Read and find out!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2008

    Amazing

    I honestly never heard of diaz until my prof told me about him...i fell in love with this book...as a college junior i would say this is my favorite book that i read beside Tuesday with Maury...

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent book, very original, awsome writing style

    Mr Diaz does a grate job in pairing historical events with it's fictional caracters and plots. His writing style is original, maybe one of the reasons he won a pulitzer. His other book Drown is also amazing. Can't wait for his next masterpiece.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2013

    There are so many things I dislike about this book that's hard t

    There are so many things I dislike about this book that's hard to know what to write. The internal voice of each character is pretty much just Diaz,  which makes the characters hard to connect with because they seem so empty. Oscar is supposed to be a nerd, yet doesn't think like one. He reads all these books, but never uses them as examples. The random, '70s, potty-mouth Spanish is also annoying and gives the characters a dirty, cheap feel to them. They have two languages, yet have limited vocabulary in both with the exception of Oscar randomly using a big word here and there, which at best seems forced. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2013

    I like Junot Díaz's writing, though I found myself cringing at h

    I like Junot Díaz's writing, though I found myself cringing at his vulgarity.. maybe his crudeness was for shock value? I don't know.. However, I did like the book (the plot was interesting), but if you are in high school, I recommend waiting till you're a little older to read it. (I'm a freshman and while I don't regret reading this book, I do wish I waited.)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013

    To start, this shouldn't be titled "The Brief Wondrous Life

    To start, this shouldn't be titled &quot;The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,&quot; it should be titled &quot;The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Most of His Family.&quot; Seriously though, here is the breakdown of the book:
    10% The concept of Fuku and Zafa
    10% Unimportant characters
    20% Oscar Wao
    60% The promiscuous experiences of his mother and sister as teenagers
    This book should also include a disclaimer on the cover notifying readers that they need to be fluent in Spanish or have a Spanish dictionary handy while reading. I have a basic understanding of Spanish and I was still frequently lost. This novel was also confusing due to the overuse of personal pronouns. It was very difficult to follow in many places as it would take me several pages to discover the subject of the author’s descriptions. The novel lacked structure overall, often deviating from the subject of Oscar for many pages. Not only was I lost because of the lack of structure, but also because of the lengthy footnotes. Some footnotes took up as much as 3/4 of the page. It would not have been as much of a problem if I hadn’t forgotten where I was in the story by the time I finished the footnote, which was often mostly irrelevant. 
    Yes, I had high expectations for this book. However, as a winner of so many awards including the Pulitzer Prize, it should meet or exceed those expectations. I gave this book two stars because Junot Diaz had an interesting idea, he just did not develop it well.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 23, 2012

    Diaz's distinctive style grows on you and entices you into a min

    Diaz's distinctive style grows on you and entices you into a mindset that makes this an always-good and sometimes-great reading experience. Characters are exceptionally well-developed and memorable and the plot is propulsive and well-crafted.

    A couple of reading notes: (1) It helps to know Spanish (I don't, but looked up a lot of words and learned a few), but you can get by without it. (2) Nook readers should know is that there are many pages of endnotes (not footnotes) that are substantively enriching but not easy to read electronically. I discovered this after completing the main body and upon skimming the endnotes had several regrets for not having known historical facts, cultural features, or background details.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2012

    This book is amazing!!!! he hit the nail with THIS book.coming

    This book is amazing!!!! he hit the nail with THIS book.coming from the same Dominican background I was taken back into oscars world!! And the history that my parents had to grow up in .... Love love this book...was very sad when I finished it lol

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 15, 2012

    Great story, too long

    I tried to like this book. Because I like the author. Junot is a masterful writer. But here he tells an interesting story that could have used some editing. He includes some unnecessary subplots that only take up time. The saying less is more would have been applicable here.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2011

    Can't believe it won a Pulitzer

    Perhaps this book wasn't written for white upper middle-class women of a certain age. The bad language, the choppy sentences, the constant and lengthly footnotes that repeat the history of Trujillo digressed too much from the story line - I kept skimming ahead to try to find a passage that I could relate to. I don't consider this truly literature - or maybe it's a genre that I don't understand. Universality is missing and that is an element that makes a book great.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2010

    Avoid this book

    I thought this book was dreadful. Yes, Diaz was able to churn out some 300 pages and, yes, I suppose it is a novel--sort of--but it is also the work of a beginner who has proved very little if you look beyond the hype. Diaz is not very adept at dialogue and is unable to sustain a coherent plot. The flashback involving the mother, beginning with chapter three, is much too long. His prose is like mush and reading this is a long, hard slog. And why in the world should a novel have page after page of footnotes? Is it because the author was unable to integrate this content within the narrative? Has Penguin laid off all its editors? Who was responsible for publishing this incoherent mess?

    Diaz tells his story from multiple points of view and this is one of the book's biggest flaws; he is unable to distinguish one character from the next. They all seem to speak in the same voice and it is often hard to tell them apart. Whether it's in first person or third person makes no difference.

    One of the ironies about Diaz's critical acclaim--which I find mystifying--is that he is supposedly a new and original voice. On the contrary; Diaz seemes to be trafficking in old sterotypes, where most Dominicans are either drug dealers, gang-bangers or thugs or the girl friends of drug dealers, gangbangers and thugs.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Took me on a ride, then fizzled

    Reading this book was like watching a soap opera. You can't ignore it but it didn't have enough substance.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    Brief and wondrous? Yeah right.

    Some may call me a typical geek but I really don't understand how a book like this gets the attention and praise of critics. Just seems that whenever it's a book about real life and people doing nothing that somehow we're supposed to come away with some deep meaning about life itself. When really the story of Oscar Wao seems to be one long drawn out reason of why suicide seems to be such a better option. And really if one were to want to read that then I say read Chuck Palahniuk. At least then he'll lay out those observations in front of you. And the fact that this book is called "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" is really a cruel joke that borders upon sadism. Especially with how the main character just seems to go on suffering from beginning to end. That you're left with the big question "What was the point of that?"

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    ugh...

    I became a fan of Junot Diaz after I read Drown. I figured since I loved that book so much I should like this book too. WRONG. I can't get through it. I've tried twice to read the entire book but I can't through it. I don't know what it is about the book but I can't get into the story or characters...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 15, 2010

    Fantastic

    This book is phenomenal. It gives a fantastic look into the lives of a series of diverse and quirky characters and brings a realism with it that is heartbreaking but inspiring. Excellent read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Don't Pay for it!

    First of all, about 15% of this book is written in Spanish. So unless you're fluent or you know someone to translate for you - be prepared. For a Pulitzer and National Book Award winner I expected something more than urban prose. No intelligence level needed for this read (the part that's in English, that is)! The footnotes that the author uses to give more detail to characters and historical timelines distract from the story. It's as if he couldn't figure out a way to blend them in and out of laziness he just left his original notes in there. Sorry but I don't get what the industry thinks is so great about this story. Maybe the critics gave this book a great review because it was such a fast, superficial read???

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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