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

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Annotation: Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who-from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister-dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. Contains Mature Material
Catalog Number: #36126
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Special Formats: Mature Content Mature Content
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition Date: 2007
Pages: 339 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 1-594-48958-0 Perma-Bound: 0-605-24526-6
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-1-594-48958-7 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-24526-6
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2007017251
Dimensions: 21 cm.
Language: English
Reviews:
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, crossed with withering political satire, makes for a compelling, sex-fueled, 21st-century tragi-comedy with a magical twist.
Publishers Weekly

Signature

Reviewed by Matthew Sharpe

Areader might at first be surprised by how many chapters of a book entitled The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao are devoted not to its sci fi–and–fantasy-gobbling nerd-hero but to his sister, his mother and his grandfather. However, Junot Diaz’s dark and exuberant first novel makes a compelling case for the multiperspectival view of a life, wherein an individual cannot be known or understood in isolation from the history of his family and his nation.

Oscar being a first-generation Dominican-American, the nation in question is really two nations. And Dominicans in this novel being explicitly of mixed Taíno, African and Spanish descent, the very ideas of nationhood and nationality are thoughtfully, subtly complicated. The various nationalities and generations are subtended by the recurring motif of fukú, “the Curse and Doom of the New World,” whose “midwife and... victim” was a historical personage Diaz will only call the Admiral, in deference to the belief that uttering his name brings bad luck (hint: he arrived in the New World in 1492 and his initials are CC). By the prologue’s end, it’s clear that this story of one poor guy’s cursed life will also be the story of how 500 years of historical and familial bad luck shape the destiny of its fat, sad, smart, lovable and short-lived protagonist.

The book’s pervasive sense of doom is offset by a rich and playful prose that embodies its theme of multiple nations, cultures and languages, often shifting in a single sentence from English to Spanish, from Victorian formality to “Negropolitan” vernacular, from Homeric epithet to dirty bilingual insult. Even the presumed reader shape-shifts in the estimation of its in-your-face narrator, who addresses us variously as “folks,” “you folks,” “conspiracy-minded-fools,” “Negro,” “Nigger” and “plataneros.” So while Diaz assumes in his reader the same considerable degree of multicultural erudition he himself possesses—offering no gloss on his many un-italicized Spanish words and expressions (thus beautifully dramatizing how linguistic borders, like national ones, are porous), or on his plethora of genre and canonical literary allusions—he does helpfully footnote aspects of Dominican history, especially those concerning the bloody 30-year reign of President Rafael Leónidas Trujillo.

The later Oscar chapters lack the linguistic brio of the others, and there are exposition-clogged passages that read like summaries of a longer narrative, but mostly this fierce, funny, tragic book is just what a reader would have hoped for in a novel by Junot Diaz.

Matthew Sharpe is the author of the novels Jamestown and The Sleeping Father. He teaches at Wesleyan University.

Starred Review for 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 fukú curse 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.)

Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Díaz's gutsy short story collection Drown (1996) made the young Dominican American a literary star. Readers who have had to wait a decade for his first novel are now spectacularly rewarded. Paralleling his own experiences growing up in the Dominican Republic and New Jersey, he has choreographed a family saga at once sanguinary and sexy that confronts the horrific brutality at loose during the reign of the dictator Trujillo. Díaz's besieged characters look to the supernatural for explanations and hope, from fukú, the curse "unleashed" when Europeans arrived on Hispaniola, to the forces dramatized in the works of science fiction and fantasy so beloved by the chubby "ghetto nerd" Oscar Wao, the brilliantly realized boy of conscience at the center of this whirlwind tale. Writing in a combustible mix of slang and lyricism, Díaz loops back and forth in time and place, generating sly and lascivious humor in counterpoint to tyranny and sorrow. And his characters car, the hopeless romantic; Lola, his no-nonsense sister; their heartbroken mother; and the irresistible homeboy narrator ing to life with the magical strength of superheroes, yet how vibrantly human they are. Propelled by compassion, Díaz's novel is intrepid and radiant.
Word Count: 92,718
Reading Level: 6.8
Interest Level: 9+
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 6.8 / points: 16.0 / quiz: 122410 / grade: Upper Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:8.6 / points:20.0 / quiz:Q44545
Lexile: 1010L
Guided Reading Level: M

Winner of:
The Pulitzer Prize
The National Book Critics Circle Award
The Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
The Jon Sargent, Sr. First Novel Prize
Time Magazine #1 Fiction Book of the Year

One of the best books of 2007 according to: The New York TimesSan Francisco Chronicle, New York Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, People, The Village Voice, Time Out New York, Salon, Baltimore City Paper, The Christian Science Monitor, Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, New York Public Library, and many more...

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read

Oscar is 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 Fukúthe curse that has haunted 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.

Díaz 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 Díaz as one of the best and most exciting voices of our time.


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