The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao

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The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao

by Junot Diaz

Penguin Publishing Group | September 2, 2008 | Trade Paperback

The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao is rated 3.6667 out of 5 by 9.
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. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love.

Listen to Junot Díaz’s interview on iTunes “Meet the Author” here.
Download iTunes here.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 352 pages, 8 × 5.1 × 0.93 in

Published: September 2, 2008

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 1594483299

ISBN - 13: 9781594483295

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from I felt left out. This book should come with a warning that a working knowledge of Spanish is necessary to understand it. I certainly got the gist of the story, and I learned more than I needed to know about the Dominican dictator Trujillo. I am amazed since I had heard about Papa Doc Duvalier and his son Baby Doc in Haiti, but I had never known that the Dominican Republic had also been a dictatorship for much of the 20th Century. I have visited the country and obviously been totally ignorant of its history. However, the language problem made me feel that I could not have a complete understanding of the novel. I don't even know what the nickname Oscar Wao means. I tried internet translations for Wao to see whether it referred in some way to Oscar Wilde, whom the characters had been discussing when the main character was given this name, but came up blank. I read this book because the recent publication of This is How You Lose Her reminded me that I had been intrigued by the description of this book when it won the Pulitzer Prize. I certainly won't be reading Diaz's newest book because it uses the same narrator, and I am sure that it will be similar to this book.
Date published: 2012-11-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Hate it I really, really disliked this book. At every twist and turn the story turns more and more depressing and the main character is very unlikeable. I bought it because it was an award winner but I was extremely disappointed.
Date published: 2012-01-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Love Oscar but book fails to Win me Over I enjoyed this story of Oscar de Leon, an American born boy of Dominican heritage. Oscar is one of those people who just don't fit in. Aside from be physically large, his interests tend toward the fantasy realm (which is totally okay with me), which doesn't seem to be the norm in New Jersey where he lives. His mother escaped from the Dominican Republic and from it's brutal dictator Rafael Trujillo. Ultimately it is a family trip that leads to a downward spiral that Oscar is unable to save himself from. I listened to the audio book as read by Jonathan Davis. His voice and pronunciation of the Spanish words pulled me into the story. This could not overcome the confusion when the story jumped around in time. One moment listening to details of Oscar's life in New Jersey and then across the ocean to the Dominican Republic and the terrors heaped on his mother and grandparents. I found this very hard to follow. It is almost as though there were two books being read in alternate chapters. I wanted to hear more about Oscar and less about Dominican history. I kept listening and it became clearer to me that the present for Oscar could not be understood without knowing the history not only of his family, but of their country. I think that I might have followed the history better if I'd seen it in print and been able to re-read those portions. On the whole, I did enjoy this book and I found the characters to be truly believable even as I shook my head and muttered "why did she do that", "oh why didn't he just walk away".
Date published: 2010-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful characters well worth it Truly a great book. It was wonderful to read a book set in NJ as I am originally from there. The humor and the passion in the work make it completely deserving of the praise heaped on it. Do believe the hype; Oscar, Lola, Beli, La Inca and Yunior make this a fabulous journey with wonderful characters well worth it.
Date published: 2009-11-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting This book was required reading for a class. Even so I found enjoyment in the reading stil of Diaz's writing. Though simplistic it was still moving and thought provoking. The protagonists lives while sad are also extremely touching. This book reads like a written oral history with the personality to go with it.
Date published: 2009-10-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyed every word of it Fantastic from beginning to end. Not the kind of book I couldn't put down but the kind of book that I enjoyed reading every word of. Great use of idioms and expressive dialogue.
Date published: 2009-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thrilling. This book gave me a sense of exhilaration that everyone seeks when reading a work of fiction. Diaz's style is unique, offbeat and refreshing. One caveat is that non-hispanic readers may have some trouble with the Spanish slang and references. Those who are part of the new Latin-American generation in the U.S. will absolutely love this about the book. He is a gifted writer that can become the voice of the new American-Hispanic generation. Planning on reading it a few more times.
Date published: 2009-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from To Die for Love A tragic but richly written novel about identity, discrimination, injustice, torture, and death but the moral of the story is about love. Oscar Wao is the novel's tragic protagonist who ultimately dies but fulfills his dream of being in love and being loved back. I think in one way or another, everyone can relate to the characters in the book. Many people claim that the contemporary novel has lost its literary imagination, they obviously have not yet read Junot Díaz. The book explores the depth of the human condition in a way that is complex, yet completely understandable. As a disclaimer, the mechanics of the book do make it difficult at times to navigate, especially for non-Spanish readers and those with no background in Latin America and specifically the Dominican Republic. However, Díaz includes extensive background footnotes, which are essential to understanding the historical context. In other words, you must read them or the story won't make sense. Overall, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" is an outstanding read, well-deserving of the Pulitzer Prize, and sure to be an instant classic.
Date published: 2009-04-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Well written and informative... What an interesting book this one was. A woman by the name of Rebecca lent it to me this past week as I read it while sitting around the pool at my resort in Puerto Plata. How appropriate to read this book while I was spending some time in the Dominican. This book was filled with some extremely interesting facts about the history of the Dominican Republic. Meanwhile a very well written story accompanied it. It was very easy to see why Junot Diaz won award for this incredible novel.
Date published: 2009-03-07

– More About This Product –

The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao

by Junot Diaz

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 352 pages, 8 × 5.1 × 0.93 in

Published: September 2, 2008

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 1594483299

ISBN - 13: 9781594483295

About the Book

Rendering with warmth the endless human capacity to persevere, this Pulitzer Prize-winning work is the long-awaited first novel from the unmistakable voice behind the short story collection "Drown."

From the Publisher

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. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love.

Listen to Junot Díaz’s interview on iTunes “Meet the Author” here.
Download iTunes here.

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; and This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist. 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.

Editorial Reviews

“Funny, street-smart and keenly observed…An extraordinarily vibrant book that’s fueled by adrenaline-powered prose.”—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

“Díaz finds a miraculous balance. He cuts his barnburning 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.”—Sam Anderson, New York Magazine

“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 Wao something exceedingly rare: a book in which a new America can recognize itself, but so can everyone else.”—Oscar Villalon, San Francisco Chronicle

“Astoundingly great.”—Lev Grossman, Time

“Terrific...High-energy...It is a joy to read, and every bit as exhilarating to reread.”—Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly

Bookclub 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?