The book chronicles the life of Oscar de León, an overweight Dominican boy growing up in Paterson, New Jersey, who is obsessed with science fiction and fantasy novels and with falling in love, as well as with the curse that has plagued his family for generations.
The middle sections of the novel center on the lives of Oscar’s runaway sister, Lola; his mother, Hypatia Belicia Cabral; and his grandfather, Abelard. Rife with footnotes, science fiction and fantasy references, comic book analogies, and various Spanish dialects, the novel is also a meditation on story-telling, the Dominican diaspora and identity, masculinity, and oppression.
Most of the story is told by an apparently omniscient narrator who is eventually revealed to be Yunior de Las Casas, a college roommate of Oscar’s who dated Lola. Yunior also appears in many of Díaz’s short stories and is often seen as an alter ego of the author.
“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
“Díaz finds a miraculous balance. He cuts his barn-burning comic-book plots (escape, ruin, redemption) with honest, messy realism, and his narrator speaks in a dazzling hash of Spanish, English, slang, literary flourishes, and pure virginal dorkiness.” —New York Magazine
“Genius. . . a story of the American experience that is giddily glorious and hauntingly horrific. And what a voice Yunior has. His narration is a triumph of style and wit, moving along Oscar de Leon’s story with cracking, down-low humor, and at times expertly stunning us with heart-stabbing sentences. 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 just the word for it) work of modern fiction—all make The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao something exceedingly rare: a book in which a new America can recognize itself, but so can everyone else.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Astoundingly great. . . Díaz has written. . . a mixture of straight-up English, Dominican Spanish, and hieratic nerdspeak crowded with references to Tolkien, DC Comics, role-playing games, and classic science fiction. . . In lesser hands Oscar Wao would merely have been the saddest book of the year. With Díaz on the mike, it’s also the funniest.” —Time
“Superb, deliciously casual and vibrant, shot through with wit and insight. The great achievement of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is Díaz’s ability to balance an intimate multigenerational story of familial tragedy. . . The past and present remain equally in focus, equally immediate, and Díaz’s acrobatic prose toggles artfully between realities, keeping us enthralled with all.” —The Boston Globe
“Panoramic and yet achingly personal. It’s impossible to categorize, which is a good thing. There’s the epic novel, the domestic novel, the social novel, the historical novel, and the ‘language’ novel. People talk about the Great American Novel and the immigrant novel. Pretty reductive. Díaz’s novel is a hell of a book. It doesn’t care about categories. It’s densely populated; it’s obsessed with language. It’s Dominican and American, not about immigration but diaspora, in which one family’s dramas are entwined with a nation’s, not about history as information but as dark-force destroyer. Really, it’s a love novel. . . His dazzling wordplay is impressive. But by the end, it is his tenderness and loyalty and melancholy that breaks the heart. That is wondrous in itself.” —Los Angeles Times
“Díaz’s writing is unruly, manic, seductive. . . In Díaz’s landscape we are all the same, victims of a history and a present that doesn’t just bleed together but stew. Often in hilarity. Mostly in heartbreak.” —Esquire
“The Dominican Republic [Díaz] portrays in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a wild, beautiful, dangerous, and contradictory place, both hopelessly impoverished and impossibly rich. Not so different, perhaps, from anyone else’s ancestral homeland, but Díaz’s weirdly wonderful novel illustrates the island’s uniquely powerful hold on Dominicans wherever they may wander. Díaz made us wait eleven years for this first novel and boom!—it’s over just like that. It’s not a bad gambit, to always leave your audience wanting more. So brief and wondrous, this life of Oscar. Wow.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Terrific. . . High-energy. . . It is a joy to read, and every bit as exhilarating to reread.” —Entertainment Weekly
“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. If Donald Barthelme had lived to read Díaz, he surely would have been delighted to discover an intellectual and linguistic omnivore who could have taught even him a move or two.” —Newsweek
“Few books require a ‘highly flammable’ warning, but The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz’s long-awaited first novel, will burn its way into your heart and sizzle your senses. Díaz’s novel is drenched in the heated rhythms of the real world as much as it is laced with magical realism and classic fantasy stories.” —USA Today
“Dark and exuberant. . . this fierce, funny, tragic book is just what a reader would have hoped for in a novel by Junot Díaz.” —Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Drown; The 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.
Top customer reviews
Pros: For me, this book somehow manages to embody that elusive “magical realism” genre that so many authors have attempted to capture since Gabriel Garcia Marquez coined the category with “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” The characters are real and flawed and complex, the history is rich, and the story sucked me in immediately. This is honestly one of the best books I have read in the past few years. I have given it as a gift to multiple people, and they have had nothing but good things to say about it.
Cons: Don’t buy the Kindle edition. You need the hard-copy with the footnotes right on the page for you to read right as they come up in the book. There are a lot of footnotes, and they’re 100% needed to fully enjoy/understand the book.
Throughout Oscars struggles we learn that he has a sister named Lola, she is a strong character that goes through a lot of self growth on her own. She is also difficult with her mother as much as her mother has been difficult with her. Although we learn why when we get to see the background of their mother Belli and a family member of theirs. Most of the story is told in third person, but who is the narrator? We don’t really know till deep into the book.
The book itself reads like one speaks, but some of the lines are so thought provoking that it took me a while to comprehend what the author was trying to say. It was also amazing to be able to relate to the book and what was happening with some of the characters, even feel what they were feeling. Overall I loved the book, personally it gave me more insight into my own culture and I had fun reading about a little bit of the history of the Dominican Republic through someone else’s eyes. One thing to remember is to not overlook the footnotes because they give a lot of background as to what the author is trying to convey and they can be very fun and uplifting, they are nothing like regular footnotes.
More than the story of Oscar –an obese, bullied, comic book-loving, fantasy role-playing nerd on a desperate mission to lose his virginity– this is the story of a Dominican family’s fukú: a potent curse said to have been cast on Oscar’s grandfather Abelard by the Dominican dictator himself, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. A fukú may affect generations, until someone along the line manages to find the right zafa to break the spell.
In a combination of Spanglish, slang, and the occasional made-up expression, Junot Díaz effectively captures the spirit and evolved identity of a transplanted Latin American family onto U.S. culture. It touches upon the struggle of a society affected by oppressive power, and the resilience and determination needed in their diaspora. As a native Hispanic, I wonder if and how non-Spanish speakers get to fully understand this book, because it’s written not only in Spanish but in Spanish (untranslateable) slang. Also, as a native Hispanic, I was annoyed at the multiple grammatical and spelling errors in Spanish. Couldn’t Diaz have found a bilingual editor?
The book’s chapters alternatively tell the story of Oscar and his immediate family members. Narrated by Yunior, Lola’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, we learn of the De León clan’s woes and how fukú, inevitably, catches up with Oscar. From the title we are aware that Oscar will die, but that news does not lessen our sorrow because by then we are despairingly rooting for his success. Oscar’s unquenchable thirst for love is heart-wrenching because it is snubbed by every female he encounters. “His affection –that gravitational mass of love, fear, longing, desire, and lust that he directed at any and every girl in the vicinity without regard to looks, age, or availability– broke his heart [and ours] each and every day”. His family members and their struggles also break our hearts in their own struggles to survive their personal hell.
As for the dose of Dominican history included in the book, I am so curious about Trujillo now that I will follow with Julia Alvarez’s “In the time of the butterflies” and Mario Vargas Llosa’s “La fiesta del chivo”. Intense!