The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Díaz

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594483295
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/02/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 11,960
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed DrownThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award;  This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist; and a debut picture book, Islandborn. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award. A graduate of Rutgers College, Díaz is currently the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

“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

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao tells the story of Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who 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 ancient curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and ill-starred romance. Oscar, still dreaming of his first kiss, is only its most recent victim—until the fateful summer that he decides to be its last.

With dazzling energy and insight, Junot Díaz immerses us in the uproarious lives of our hero Oscar, his runaway sister Lola, and their ferocious mother Belicia, and in the family’s epic journey from Santo Domingo to New York City’s Washington Heights to New Jersey’s Bergenline and back again. Rendered with uncommon warmth and humor, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao presents an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and the endless human capacity to persevere—and to risk it all—in the name of love.

A true literary triumph, this novel confirms Junot Díaz as one of the best and most exciting writers of our time.

“Genius...A story of the American experience that is giddily glorious and hauntingly horrific...That Díaz’s novel is also full of ideas, that [the narrator’s] brilliant talking rivals the monologues of Roth’s Zuckerman—in short, that what he has produced is a kick-ass (and truly, that is the just word for it) work of modern fiction—all make The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Waosomething exceedingly rare: a book in which a new America can recognize itself, but so can everyone else.” —Oscar Villalon,San Francisco Chronicle

“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

“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

 


ABOUT JUNOT DÍAZ

Born in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, and raised there and in New Jersey, Junot Díaz graduated from Rutgers and received an MFA from Cornell. He lives in New York City and Boston, and is a tenured professor at MIT.

His first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008. The novel also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Fiction of 2007, the Mercantile Library Center’s John Sargent Prize for First Novel in 2007, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was also a New York Times Notable Book of 2007 and Time magazine’s Book of the Year.

Junot Díaz has had his fiction published in The New Yorker and The Paris Review, and four times in The Best American Short Stories. His critically praised, bestselling debut book, Drown, led to his inclusion among Newsweek’s “New Faces of 1996”—the only writer in the group. The New Yorker placed him on a list of the twenty top writers for the twenty-first century. Díaz has won the Eugene McDermott Award, the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellowship, a U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Fellowship from the NEA, and most recently the Rome Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • Throughout the novel, Spanish words and phrases appear unaccompanied by their English translations. What is the effect of this seamless blending of Spanish and English? How would the novel have been different if Díaz had stopped to provide English translations at every turn? Why does Díaz not italicize the Spanish words (the way foreign words are usually italicized in English-language text)?
     
  • The book centers on the story of Oscar and his family—and yet the majority of the book is narrated by Yunior, who is not part of the family, and only plays a relatively minor role in the events of the story. Yunior even calls himself “The Watcher,” underscoring his outsider status in the story. What is the effect of having a relative outsider tell the story of Oscar and his family, rather than having someone in the family tell it? And why do you think Díaz waits for so long at the beginning of the book to reveal who the narrator is?
     
  • Díaz, in the voice of the narrator, often employs footnotes to explain the history or context of a certain passage or sentence in the main text. Why do you think he chose to convey historical facts and anecdotes in footnote form? How would the novel have read differently if the content of the footnotes had been integrated into the main text? What if the footnotes (and the information in them) had been eliminated altogether?
     
  • In many ways, Yunior and Oscar are polar opposites. While Yunior can get as many women as he wants, he seems to have little capacity for fidelity or true love. Oscar, by contrast, holds love above all else—and yet cannot find a girlfriend no matter how hard he tries. Is it fair to say that Yunior is Oscar’s foil—underscoring everything Oscar is not—and vice versa? Or are they actually more alike than they seem on the surface?
     
  • The narrator says “Dominicans are Caribbean and therefore have an extraordinary tolerance for extreme phenomena. How else could we have survived what we survived?” (p. 149). What does he mean by that? Could Oscar’s obsession with science fiction and the “speculative genres” be seen as a kind of extension of his ancestors’ belief in “extreme phenomena”? Was that his method of coping?
     
  • Yunior characterizes himself as a super macho, womanizing jock-type—and yet in narrating the book, his writing is riddled with reference to nerdy topics like the Fantastic Four and Lord of the Rings. In other words, there seems to be a schism between Yunior the character and Yunior the writer. Why do you think that is? What could Díaz be trying to say by making Yunior’s character so seemingly contradictory?
     
  • For Oscar, his obsession with fantasy and science fiction becomes isolating, separating him from his peers so much so that he almost cannot communicate with them—as if he speaks a different language (and at one point he actually speaks in Elvish). How are other characters in the book—for instance, Belicia growing up in the Dominican Republic, or Abelard under the dictatorship of Trujillo, similarly isolated? And how are their forms of isolation different?
     
  • We know from the start that Oscar is destined to die in the course of the book—the title suggests as much, and there are references to his death throughout the book (“Mister. Later [Lola would] want to put that on his gravestone but no one would let her, not even me.” (p. 36)). Why do you think Díaz chose to reveal this from the start? How does Díaz manage to create suspense and hold the reader’s attention even though we already know the final outcome for Oscar? Did it actually make the book more suspenseful, knowing that Oscar was going to die?
     
  • In one of the footnotes the narrator posits that writers and dictators are not simply natural antagonists, as Salman Rushdie has said, but are actually in competition with one another because they are essentially in the same business (p. 97). What does he mean by that? How can a writer be a kind of dictator? Is the telling of a story somehow inherently tyrannical? Do you think Díaz actually believes that he is in some way comparable to Trujillo? If so, does Díaz try to avoid or subvert that in any way?
     
  • The author, the primary narrator, and the protagonist of the book are all male, but some of the strongest characters and voices in the book (La Inca, Belicia, Lola) are female. Who do you think makes the strongest, boldest decisions in the book? Given the machismo and swagger of the narrative voice, how does the author express the strength of the female characters? Do you think there is an intentional comment in the contrast between that masculine voice and the strong female characters?
     
  • There are a few chapters in the book in which Lola takes over the narration and tells her story in her own words. Why do you think it is important to the novel to let Lola have a chance to speak for herself? Do you think Díaz is as successful in creating a female narrative voice as he is the male one?
     
  • How much of her own story do you think Belicia shared with her children? How much do you think Belicia knew about her father Abelard’s story?
     
  • The image of a mongoose with golden eyes and the a man without a face appear at critical moments and to various characters throughout the book. What do these images represent? Why do you think Díaz chose these images in particular? When they do appear, do you think you are supposed to take them literally? For instance, did you believe that a mongoose appeared to Belicia and spoke to her? Did she believe it?
     
  • While Oscar’s story is central to the novel, the book is not told in his voice, and there are many chapters in which Oscar does not figure at all, and others in which he only plays a fairly minor role. Who do you consider the true protagonist of the novel? Oscar? Yunior? Belicia? The entire de Leon and Cabral family? The fukú?
     
  • Oscar is very far from the traditional model of a “hero.” Other characters in the book are more traditionally heroic, making bold decisions on behalf of others to protect them—for instance, La Inca rescuing young Belicia, or Abelard trying to protect his daughters. In the end, do you think Oscar is heroic or foolish? And are those other characters—La Inca, Abelard—more or less heroic than Oscar?
     
  • During the course of the book, many of the characters try to teach Oscar many things—especially Yunior, who tries to teach him how to lose weight, how to attract women, how to behave in social situations. Do any characters not try to teach Oscar anything, and just accept him as who he is? How much does Oscar actually learn from anyone? And in the end, what does Oscar teach Yunior, and the other characters if anything?

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 12-copy solid floor display 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 528 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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...
PickledJarofBrain More than 1 year ago
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, Belícia, and her children, Lola and Oscar. Belícia'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 'Fúku', 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.
iluvvideo More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was blown away by the plot of the story. This is truely an imaginative tale.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The ending was terrible. Whatever the author had to say about life I didn't agree with.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.)
KatStan More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
ShunziJong More than 1 year ago
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.
NWilson More than 1 year ago
Reading this book was like watching a soap opera. You can't ignore it but it didn't have enough substance.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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?"
thecatsmeowCC More than 1 year ago
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...
Mara_New More than 1 year ago
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!
jkny23 More than 1 year ago
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???
pagese More than 1 year ago
I'm still not sure what makes this book a literary genius. First off I dislike fiction stories that include footnotes. Although, I know they are there to state facts, I still found myself not reading them. There is an interesting history trapped in these pages. And that I did enjoy. I liked the story involving Oscar's heritage and the history of the Dominican. He's mother's story was particularly harrowing. But, the story of Oscar himself bordered on vulgar at times. I felt like it was 340 pages of a man's desire to have sex for the first time. I finished it (and it took me longer than most books this size do), but I don't feel I learned anything from it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a bit tiring. It doesn't really focus on Oscar (like I expected)but the whole "unlucky" Wao family history. Junot Diaz writes very well and is very talented with the writing but the story doesn't really stand out for me. However, it was interesting with the whole Dominican Rep. history. The middle part was boring, it dragged on, and I had to force my way through it. Other than that, the rest is not bad and I found the ending satisfying. I would recommend it if you don't have a book in mind that you're dying or waiting to read. Overall, it has its highs and lows.
mctn More than 1 year ago
I do respect the mentality of people from other countries as I, too, am an immigrant living in the USA. I just don't know why the author would want to focus on this issue, in this manner. The historical part was greatly researched, though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
honestly thought it was not that good. I kept TRYING to read it (I never not finish a book) and I coudln't. I'm Spanish and fluent in reading and writing and still found it too hard to read...it doesn flow since you always have to be looking at the foot notes. And its just very boring in the middle. at first i thought that the flash backs/forwards would be cool, but it just made the book even more redundant. In conclusion I just gave up TRYING to read it because after 250 pages you shouldn't be trying anymore it should be a page turner by now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing writing style gets you entranced but by about midway one gets weary of the violence, sexism and language. Interesting historical footnotes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I try to read the 'top' selling books from many lists and I find myself scratching my head wondering "What did I miss?" It always brings me back to choices and individual tastes.....a painting, music, dance, movie or book. To each his/her own. I LISTENED to this on audio CD's, which to me makes many books come alive when there is a good reader. I enjoyed the word pronounciation (vs. my attempts to say them) but I did not enjoy this book. Drown was included in the audio pack and I got through that a little easier than Oscar Wao.
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.