The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

3.9 47
by Junot Díaz
     
 

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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…  See more details below

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.

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Editorial Reviews

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
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 Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/06/2007
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
242,015
Product dimensions:
5.88(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.25(d)
Lexile:
1010L (what's this?)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

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

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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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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was blown away by the plot of the story. This is truely an imaginative tale.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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Willeo More than 1 year ago
I very rarely give five star ratings to books, movies, and music. I allow myself to do this even less often for contemporary media. I think a five star should be given most often to book and films that have proven that they can stand the test of time. However, I am so confident in the ability of this book to relate to readers for generations, that I am going to give it FIVE STARS!! This book is modern and timeless all at once. It relates the life of Oscar, a seemingly typical outsider; immigrant, overweight, nerd, virgin. But at the same time as we are reading about Oscar's contemporary struggles with life and family, it is done in the context of a universal story of displacement, family disfunction (and ultimately connectedness), and struggle to find (and understand) true love. These universal themes are related through a conglomeration of mythology and symbols. I love the way Diaz combines dominican folklore, sci-fi archetypes, and superhero standards to create a unique mythology that frames the events of this novel. This post-modern mythology provides a plentitude of symbols and connections to the plot events, creating alens through which the events of Oscar's life can be compared to the universal themes that pervade all of our lives. Mythology and archetypes exist because they occur repeatedly in the real world and their stories are developed as a means of creating a a metaphysical framework for what we believe. The conglomeration of traditional and contemporary myths and stories shows us the connection between our past and our future.
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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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a page-turner and the various characters inspired empathy. The plain-spoken style of the novel would have made it an easy read but if you don't speak Spanish, it's a little like reading War and Peace without speaking French; you are constantly stumbling as your reading pace is interrupted by words that are not always clearly translated through the use of context clues.
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