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Краткият чуден живот на Оскар Уао

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„Краткият чуден живот на Оскар Уао” е удивителен и не твърде кратък роман, който би могъл да се опише като "Марио Варгас Льоса среща „Стар Трек”" или "Дейвид Фостър Уолъс среща Кани Уест". Остроумен, нахакан и наблюдателен роман, който се разгръща от комичен портрет на доминикански смотаняк второ поколение в мъчително разсъждение върху публичната и частната история и фамилното бреме. Необикновено вибрираща, заредена с адреналин проза, която не се бои да забърка няколко десетилетия от историята и с еднаква лекота говори за Толкин и Трухильо, за аниме филмчета и древни доминикански магии, за студентски секс и тайни полицейски проверки.”

Мичико Какутани, New York Times

„Романът на Диас притежава необуздан дух, който му придава мащаб. „Краткият чуден живот на Оскар Уао” съдържа непокорно множество стилове и жанрове. Порастването на Оскар се оказва най-тънкият слой, мелодрамата на съзряването, опъната върху фамилната, имигрантска хроника носи белезите на магическия реализъм, пънк рок феминизма, хип-хоп мачизма, след-постмодерната пиротехника и достатъчно мултикултурализъм, че да запълни един университетски курс.

А. О. Скот, New York Times Review of Books

„Джуно Диас създава език и темпо, каквито не съм срещал преди, изпълнен с испански просторечия, уличен сленг, терминология от компютърните игри. Смеската работи, дори да не знаете кога се казва hola и кога adios и никога да не сте играли видео-игри.
Пичът може да пише. Това е една от най-оригиналните книги, които са ми попадали от доста време насам.”

Читателски отзив в Amazon.com

"Оскар Уао (испанското произношение на Оскар Уайлд) е дебел, грозен нърд, който никога не е бил целуван. В живота му има само един наистина близък до него човек, сестра му Лола, и две големи любови: към Жанра! и жените. Нетипичен доминиканец по отношение на първото и абсолютен що се отнася до второто. Само дето жените и в реалния свят са достъпни колкото Дъщерята на Големия учен от историите от Златния век. Когато мисли за тях, Оскар не може да го прави без помощта на имагинерните светове, в които липсата му на опит в реалния живот е заменена от приключения и страсти на фона на разрушени от апокалипсис пейзажи. Истинският Оскар се влюбва от жена в жена, пътувайки из този космос като герой на приключенска спейс опера от планета на планета. Този от фантазиите няма такива проблеми: винаги се появява навреме, за да Я спаси и Тя да се влюби в него.

350 pages, Paperback

First published September 6, 2007

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About the author

Junot Díaz

56 books6,777 followers
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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 21,161 reviews
68 reviews23 followers
February 16, 2009
How this book won the Pulitzer Prize AND the National Book Critics Circle is beyond me. It's terrible. Here's the review I wrote when it came out. I stand by this completely. If someone says they read this and liked it, punch them in the throat. (I'm kidding, naturally.)

Review of Junot Diaz’s first novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” published Oct. 7, 2007
Imagine, if you will, that seven years after publishing "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," Ernest Hemingway decided to expand his well-known short story into a 350-page novel. Imagine if, before Macomber is "accidentally" shot by his wife on that safari, Hemingway decided to pad the narrative with a couple hundred pages about Macomber's mother, sister, and grandfather -- tangents that only serve to betray the proper focus of the story, its title, and the reader's trust.
That, in short, is what Junot Diaz has done with "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" (Riverhead Books, $24.95) -- a short story he wrote for the New Yorker in 2000, and which, in novel form, devotes more pages to the title character's extended family (and it's so-called curse or fuku) than it does to the fat, girl-challenged nerdy writer who loves “The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and aspires to be the Dominican Tolkien.
Diaz, now 38, burst on the literary scene in 1996 with his well-received collection of short stories, "Drown," which critics and readers both loved. I've been meaning to read it for some time, and when I learned he was coming out with a novel, I figured the timing was perfect: I'd sample his lone collection of short stories, get a flavor for his style, and then progress to the novel. Unfortunately, the library's sole copy has been checked out for weeks, so I didn't get to read "Drown" before experiencing "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," which happens to be one of the most erratic, ill-conceived and annoying books I've ever encountered.
The book begins with short-lived promise. We meet dorky Oscar as a high school sophomore living in Paterson, N.J., with his mother, Belicia; his sister, Lola; and his heroin-addicted uncle, who plays a minor, insignificant role. The mother had been born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, but immigrated to the United States in the early 1960s. The kids' father, whom she met on the plane to the states, took off a long time ago, and the story of his flight from domesticity is about the only case of love-gone-bad that isn't described in excruciating detail in this book.
Crazy love is the family's curse or fuku, which is the superstitious element of magical realism that threads through the novel.
"No matter what its name or provenance, it is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fuku on the world, and we've all been in the (bleep) ever since," says the sometime narrator, Yunior, the onetime boyfriend of Oscar's sister, whose name and identity won't be revealed until halfway through the book, and for no other reason than Diaz wants to torture his readers. (That's the only reason I could glean, anyway.)
So, Oscar's personal fuku is that he loves girls, but they don't love him. And basically, they don't love him because he doesn't look like Enrique Iglesias. To hear Diaz tell it, Oscar's the only Dominican who doesn't.
"Had none of the Higher Powers of your typical Dominican male, couldn't have pulled a girl if his life depended on it. Couldn't play sports for (bleep), dominoes, was beyond uncoordinated, threw a ball like a girl. Had no knack for music or business or dance, no hustle, no rap, no G. And most damning of all: no looks. He wore his semi-kink hair in a Puerto Rican afro, rocked enormous Section 8 glasses…sported an unappealing trace of mustache on his upper lip and possessed a pair of close-set eyes that made him look somewhat retarded."
Yunior goes on, "Perhaps if he'd been like me he'd been able to hide his otakuness maybe (bleep) would have been easier for him, but he couldn't. Dude wore his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber or a Lensman her lens. Couldn't have passed for Normal if he'd wanted to."
At this point, we don't who the narrator is or what his relationship to Oscar might be. Truthfully, wanting to know does help drag the reader through the novel. But learning the identity isn't ultimately rewarding; it's annoying.
Early on, the forward momentum of the novel stalls and the narrative flashes back in time and focuses on Lola, the sister, and how she ran away from home in the 1990s; and then to the mother, Belicia, and how she was a star-crossed lover herself in the Dominican Republic. The mother's section of the book lasts 90 pages and covers the years 1955-1962. A wise reader would have quit the 335-page book at this point, because "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" had morphed into "The Bloated Family Background of Oscar Wao." But I read on, waiting for it to get better. Unfortunately, it never did, and the reasons seem clear.
Not only is the narrative timeline all over the place, but important information -- be it dialogue or exposition -- is often relayed in Spanish. Now, I took two semesters of the language in college and yet I had no idea what characters were saying in many parts, because context didn't lend hints. If Diaz is aiming this book towards a bilingual audience, then so be it. But how difficult would it have been to translate the Spanish in footnotes? The book is already rife with footnotes anyway, which mainly serve to explain the history of the brutal dictatorship of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. Throw a gringo a bone.
In describing how Belicia, Oscar's mother, had developed a brash attitude as a teenager (while living in the Dominican Republic with her adoptive mother, La Inca), Diaz writes, "Those of you who have stood at the corner of 142nd and Broadway can guess what it was she spoke: the blunt, irreverent cant of the pueblo that gives all dominicanos cultos nightmares on their 400-thread-count sheets and that La Inca had assumed perished along with Beli's first life in Outer Azua, but here it was so alive, it was like it had never left: Oye, pariguayo, y que paso con esa esposa tuya? Gordo, no me digas que tu todavia tienes hambre."
Uh, no comprende, amigo?
A lack of Spanish skills won't be the only thing that keeps you from enjoying this book. Beyond its organizational problems, the literary devices in play -- the magical realism, the comic book references, and the fat, supposedly lovable title character -- make the book feel derivative of Jorge Luis Borges, Michael Chabon ("The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay"), and "A Confederacy of Dunces."
Towards the end of the novel, Yunior, the narrator, is describing Oscar's last great love, a semi-retired prostitute named Ybon. He says, "I know I've thrown a lot of fantasy and sci-fi in the mix but this is supposed to be a true account of the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Can't we believe that an Ybon can exist and that a brother like Oscar might be due a little luck after twenty-three years?
"This is your chance. If blue pill, continue. If red pill, return to the Matrix."
Too bad that offer came so late - on page 285. Do yourself a favor and take the red pill now. Return to the Matrix and don't read this book.

Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,460 reviews3,627 followers
October 17, 2022
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a great coming-of-age tale about a boy who wished to grow up but just couldn’t… He just managed to grow older. And somehow I place this unusual novel between To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and of course it has some sinister touch of The Comedians by Graham Greene to boot.
In September he headed to Rutgers New Brunswick, his mother gave him a hundred dollars and his first kiss in five years, his tío a box of condoms: Use them all, he said, and then added: On girls. There was the initial euphoria of finding himself alone at college, free of everything, completely on his fucking own, and with it an optimism that here among these thousands of young people he would find someone like him. That, alas, didn’t happen. The white kids looked at his black skin and his afro and treated him with inhuman cheeriness. The kids of color, upon hearing him speak and seeing him move his body, shook their heads.

He was a captive of the trash culture and he lived under its curse – those who admire superheroes and worship supermen unavoidably turn their own lives into a despicable shit.
It’s never the changes we want that change everything.

The changes that eventually changed his life were the truly fatal ones…
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a tragic story.
She would be a new person, she vowed. They said no matter how far a mule travels it can never come back a horse, but she would show them all.

However hard one tries one can’t win over one’s nature… One’s nature always wins.
Profile Image for Malbadeen.
613 reviews7 followers
October 2, 2008
I want to know all about your family, your childhood, your grandparents, their childhood, etc, etc, I want to know where you lived, what food you ate, what games you played or didn't play. I want to know why this is important to you or that is not. Which is why I LOVED this book! Junot Diaz takes 300+ pages to tell a story about a boy that wants to be kissed and the kiss MATTERS because we know his family, we know his friends, we know their superstitions and their pains, and their loses and their survivals and by the time we get to page 339 we know why the kiss is so important.

Oscar goes on the short list of book characters that will stay with me forever.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,629 followers
October 11, 2019
Exhilarating. Brutal yet beautiful. Wao. I really enjoyed both the style and the story of this whirlwind of a novel by Junot Díaz. I can see why he got a Pulitzer and wonder if his other books are as fun to read. I think that Seven Killings was even more masterful, but Oscar delivers nearly as much gore and Caribbean corruption and historical facts as well. I especially enjoyed the footnotes. Writing any more about this book would certainly break my no spoilers rules so suffice it to say that this book was GREAT and I will be on the lookout for more Díaz fiction!

For more about Trujillo, his regime, his assassination, and the chaos that ensued (with a magnificent female protagonist Urania), don't miss Feast of the Goat by Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa - it is extraordinary!
Profile Image for Andy.
32 reviews2 followers
December 24, 2007
I bought Oscar Wao as a birthday gift for my mother in October based on scores of sterling reviews. She read it, gave it a mild thumbs-up (probably just being nice) and handed it off to me. Now having read it, I'm pretty mortified I thought this book would be something she might like.

The critical consensus seemed to be that Junot Diaz is a good writer, and he picked a good story to tell here in his first novel. But I found this book lacking on both counts. I found the writing lazy and unexpressive in many places. Granted, I have no Spanish-language background, so there were some important places in the novel where I couldn't get the total meaning of the sentences, but I thought Diaz's reliance on slang & colloquialism arose more out of laziness than from the narrative voice, which was often sloppy. There are multiple narrators and they mostly talk in the same voice, with the same elements of short humor & pithy street wisdom offered.

The story was just as diappointing. There were efforts made at epic storytelling here - tackling the Trujillo dictatorship of the Dominican and its spiritual ramifications on the generations of the de Leon family. But when you boil this thing down, it's just the story of a loser teenager trying to get laid. And there aren't any characters who raise the level of discussion. Besides Oscar, his mother's trying to get laid, his sister's trying to get laid, and so it seems the essence of the Dominican character is about getting laid. Maybe it's honest, but it's not saying much about their culture relevance. It was hard for me to take away any large messages from this book when it operates from such a crude fundamental point.

I give it two stars only because Diaz seems to have a knack for narrative - the plot is well-constructed, even if it is slight & irrelevant - and there are a few characters who will remain in my mind.
Profile Image for Adina .
888 reviews3,519 followers
December 16, 2020
A to Z around the world personal challenge - D is Dominican Republic

After the partial failure with another Pulitzer winner and the controversy surrounding this book /author I was a bit weary at first. I shouldn’t have been because it was an excellent novel which deserves its praise.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is not about Oscar’s life which definitely wasn’t wondrous. It is a saga of a Dominicana family starting in the Republic during the horrendous period of Trujillo’s reign, one of the worse dictatores, and ending in New York in the 90’s. The main characters are, in my opinion, the invisible Trujillo and la madre de Oscar, Belicia Cabral. La historia is narrated by one of the characters and we gradually find out who that is. The timeline is not linear but it made sense to me. The characters are powerfully drawn, all flawed and not overly likable but they felt real to the period and the surroundings.

The novel is written in Spanglish and I was thankful for my knowledge of Espanol. Watching Narcos also helped as I could thoroughly enjoy those beautiful adverbs such as maricon. Although I read it in Romanian, the translator kept the Spanish slang and did a good job to preserve the flow, as the author intended. There are a lot of bad words in here, so for someone who is easily offended, it might be a problem.
130 reviews186 followers
February 22, 2009
Ok, I’m writing a review of this book right now or I’ma die trying goddamn it!

I got nothing! I’ve deleted like 20 paragraphs!

1 HOUR LATER!!! 2 bruises in my forehead, kind of dizzy, I’ve cursed the gods of knowledge for being born without literary talent!! And 0 review!

Oh god!!! I give up!!! This is all I got!!! This book is awesome!!! Is a nerdy dude being nerdy as hell and not getting pussy!! Even tho he desperately wants it!! he watches Akira which I think is kind of cool! he watches cool tv shows that I like! Talks about books that I like, and has an unhealthy Tolkien obsession almost as big as mine! I didn’t like it when he was hating on Magic The Gathering… but whatever I know how different strategy nerds get really aggressive when talking about games they don’t like, he eats platano! Mucho mucho platano! And god damn it I love platanos too! With cebollitas and queso frito! He has a fuku almost as bad as mine!! I disagree with him when he compares Balaguer to one of the Ring Wraths (I think it was the witch king) I think if we are going to talk about dominican culture in LOTR terms Trujillo was Morgoth and Balaguer was Sauron…( there is a part on the Silmarillion when after the fall of Morgoth –yes, I used the Noldor name fuck off!- Sauron escapes and they said that he gets to be as evil as his master) oh god! I need a life so badly =( anyway this book has anime, D&D, Tolkien, Dr. Who, platanos, Dominican mother’s makes one want to kill one self!, voodoo, Love, I mean all the good stuff!!!!

Profile Image for Dan.
222 reviews22 followers
July 18, 2008
Soon after I started reading this book, I also started reading Housekeeping vs. The Dirt by Nick Hornby. In it's preface, Hornby discusses why reading has fallen by the wayside as of late. A lot of people associate reading with boredom because to most, it feels like a chore to get through novels. If people would just read what they enjoyed, then they would begin again to see the pleasures of reading and thus, do more of it (he even makes a point that someone who reads only The Economist and their daily paper every week may in fact be reading more words than him). There's a bit of circular logic to this, of course; how are you to know if you'll enjoy a book unless you start? Along with that, you have many circles that seem to want to claim that unless reading is difficult or a challenge, then it wasn't really worth reading at all.

Which pretty much sums up all the trappings I fell into with Oscar Wao. I first became aware of it when I read an interview with Diaz on a comic book site I frequent. I recognized the book cover from work and said, "There's a comic connection in there? I should check it out!" I did, and the very first line is a quote from an old Fantastic Four comic. Flipping through at random I caught even more references, to the New Gods and Middle Earth and so on...it seemed rife with geeky references I'd get (seriously - how many of the "literatti" would know what the "Omega Effect" was?). I made a mental note to check it out later. Before you know it, this little book had won the Pulitzer. Wow, there must be more to it than just some sci-fi asides. So I finally found a good break to read it. It starts out interesting enough, despite a lengthy discussion about the Dominican Republic's dictators, and I can see Oscar is pretty likable. There is a LOT of Spanish and Spanish slang mixed throughout, but I can figure out most through context. The second section then shifts to Oscar's sister, Lola. She's afforded about equal time, albeit with less geeky references, and I stick through it here because she spends her time in Wildwood, and as I spent a lot of summers there growing up I wondered if I'd recognize anything (something else Hornby discusses in the above book, oddly enough - familiar locations as a reason to read a particular book). The next section is what did me in. Diaz decides to spend a LOT of time on the childhood and adolescence of Oscar and Lola's mother. From what I've gathered in other reviews, Diaz is apparently setting up some themes between all these family members, but at that point I couldn't care less. This was not what I signed up for, and the Spanish comes on even stronger here - I found myself skipping almost every other sentence.

I'm sure there is some beautiful dovetailing of story lines later on, but the reading became a chore, and at that point I decided to take Nick Hornby's advice on how to proceed:"Put it down. You'll never finish it. Start something else."
And there's nothing wrong with that.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo (away on an island).
2,189 reviews1,813 followers
February 28, 2022

Ci sono persone che in cucina si muovono con particolare agio: conoscono gli ingredienti, sanno mescolarli amagalmarli aggiungerli dosarli sottrarli, sanno che sapore manca e quale aggiungere. Sanno prendere una ricetta classica e personalizzarla, anche in base a quello che hanno sotto mano.
Junot Diaz è un bravo cuoco di parole, stili, toni: ha imparato l’arte in qualche scuola di scrittura creativa, poi non l’ha messa da parte, ma subito messa in pratica, la usa e amministra con sapienza.
E sforna un romanzo che ha del meraviglioso come il titolo, ma, al contrario del titolo, non è così breve: un mix di Vargas Llosa, DFW, Star Trek, Macondo, Kanye West, come evidenzia Michiko Kakutani nella sua recensione sul New York Times.

Sarah Steele in “Spanglish” di James L. Brooks, 2004.

Il prototipo dello scrittore in Spanglish, mischia termini dominicani e spagnoli allo slang metropolitano, con fantasia, adrenalina, pirotecnia.
Incrocia con naturalezza due mondi diversissimi, la fosca Santo Domingo preda del suo dittatore Trujillo dal 1930 al 1961, dominata dal fukù piombato sull’inerme popolazione all’arrivo degli Spagnoli cinquecento anni fa, un intreccio di maledizioni da far paura anche agli Atridi, alla terra della libertà e della speranza e dell’accoglienza (ma non luminosissima).
D’altra parte, la vera maledizione è la vita stessa.

Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina (San Cristóbal, 24 ottobre 1891 – Santo Domingo, 30 maggio 1961), soprannominato "el Jefe" o "el Benefactor", dittatore della Repubblica Dominicanaper per oltre trent'anni

Il protagonista, Oscar, pateticamente obeso, è l’antitesi del macho dominicano, e diventa Wao perché in abito da carnevale ricorda Oscar Wilde che storpiato in dominicano si trasforma appunto in Wao. Oscar, straniero nella natia Santo Domingo tanto quanto nella nuova patria, gli US, è davvero a casa solo quando legge i suoi fumetti e romanzi di fantascienza, un mondo altro che esiste solo per lui.


Romanzo caraibico (nell’oceano delle mie lacune, faccio comunque differenza tra la narrativa caraibica e quella più genericamente latinoamericana: mi sembra diverso il rapporto col corpo, la pelle, il sesso, la carne… La copertina, però, rimanda a Puig, molto più che a un Gutierrez o una Kincaid) e romanzo colloquiale intriso di gergo di strada.

Mai letto nient’altro così pieno di brutalità, torture, stupri, omicidi e suicidi che sia così divertente e ironico: si legge sorridendo anche se il cuore è serrato.

Tu sei la prova che dio è dominicano.

il Fukù è l’antica maledizione dominicana che perseguita i membri della famiglia di Oscar da generazioni
Profile Image for James.
Author 20 books3,710 followers
September 6, 2017
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz is pure genius storytelling at its core. This was a Book Club choice that had me a little nervous but in the end had me tightly strapped in for the ride.

As the title suggests, there is brevity to Oscar Wao's life. Going into the read knowing this fact makes it even harder to accept as you have little hope that he will survive all that is thrown at him in his early years. You root for him the entire length of the book but know deep in your heart it will not end well.

The imagery, foreshadowing and character development is on point -- rich with emotion and passion. You will fall in love with Oscar knowing all the while he is so very different from you, but so very similar at the same time. You will suffer the torture and experience the pain he feels.

But in the end, you accept what has happened despite the heartbreak and sadness that comes with it. I am better man having read about Oscar than I was before.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews... here's the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you'll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I've visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by.
Profile Image for Crystal Starr Light.
1,357 reviews832 followers
January 6, 2014
Bullet Review:

"WAHHHHHH! My life is so horrible!! I'm 100+ pounds overweight, have no friends, and have never gotten laid!! Especially to some fine b!tch with huge tits! The one time I "tried", the girl was in an abusive relationship with a d-bag. I was TOTALLY the Nice Guy; she should have gone with ME!!! Now I will whine and do nerdy things, and occasionally mention them so that the cover blurb saying I'm the Dominican Tolkien won't be 100% inaccurate."

If this is what you want to read, go ahead, be my guest. But you know what? I WAS an overweight, friendless, dateless, sexless teenager and young adult. I buried myself in books and science fiction and college classes withOUT having to be constantly whining about the dates I wasn't getting (oh and objectifying every single set of tits out there). And you know what? My life has turned out awesome. You know why? Because I decided that *I* wanted to make my life awesome.

I honestly was hoping to expand my reading tastes, to read about a Dominican guy who wanted to be like Tolkien. I was excited as this guy and I shared a love for geekdom. But if I need to wade through a boy (because Oscar is NOT a man in my book) who just wants to wallow in self-pity and whine about not having sex, no. Absolutely not. I really don't care in the slightest to read some dumb @$$ who can't grow the f@#$ up and deal with it; in fact I lack the number of fingers (zero) to show how many f$&@s I give about the so-called "Brief Wondrous Life" of this massive (har!) tool. I know I ought to TRY to get past 15% for my Book Club, but seriously, this is NOT WORTH my time.

(Thanks to my fellow book club member who sacrificed her sanity and DID finish this to warn me away while I still had the chance.)
Profile Image for Baba.
3,615 reviews985 followers
June 11, 2022
Pulitzer prize winning and well deserved. An amazing work on the fictional life of Oscar Wao, his family and their antecedents and how they appeared to be plagued with 'fuku' bad luck. Superbly crafted with chapters concentrating on specific characters in a non-linear progression. It also takes a frank look a Dominica under its various oppressive regimes, especially that of 'El Jefe'. The characterisations of all the major players is exceptional; also amazing is how the story is juxtaposed with Oscar's nerd view by numerous on the face of it, out-of-kilter references to comic books, science fiction and other fanboy faves. Here's a scene from the Broadway play:

The best prize winning book I've read for ages, and highly highly recommended.

2017 read; 2011 read
Profile Image for Cassy.
250 reviews730 followers
July 13, 2023
Honestly, if someone had warned me that this book would barrage me - page after page, line after line - with obscure dorky references, Dominican Republican history lessons, and Spanish colloquialisms, I may not have picked it up.*

But I am glad that I did.

It is interesting to realize that on the scale of nerd-dom, I fall on the light end. I could follow the shout-outs to science fiction authors, as well as the Lord of the Rings allusions (of which there were many). But I was lost for all the anime, video game, comic, and role playing mentions. And I was okay with that.

My ignorance didn’t keep me from empathizing with the main character: super dork Oscar Wao. He actually reminded me of all the odd computer science and mechanical engineering majors from my undergrad. I found him endearing and was always happiest (and saddest) when the book shifted back into a perspective featuring sweet, roly-poly Oscar.

Likewise, I enjoyed the footnotes about the sorted history of the Dominican Republic. (Who knew they hated Haitians so much?) In fact, I appreciate when a Latin American author writing about their homeland includes some kind of educational element.

Alas, the Spanish words intermixed into every other sentence? Those got on my nerves. I could normally infer their meaning, but it was tiring. Plus my straight-laced Latino husband was of limited use with the island slang. Although I will admit, it was fun to see him flustered. Picture us reading at a restaurant. I look up and kick Leo under the table.

Me: Hey, Leo. Another one. What does ___ mean?
Leo: SHHH! [looks guiltily at the Latino family eating at the table next to us]
Me: What? What does it mean?
Leo: Not now.
Me: [pause] Later?

Which brings us to the next point: the cussing. Diaz’s style is unique. He is definitely a modern literary writer. The artistry and intelligence is there. Yet instead of stuffy and pretentious, Diaz is raw and raunchy. He is liberal with the cuss words. It didn’t bother me, but if you are faint of heart, you definitely want to avoid this book.

I was blushing, though, when I went to an event last night with Diaz. Diaz got up on that stage in his sneakers and used every cuss word in the urban dictionary. I found him to be quite charming and candid. Moving beyond the verbal color to the substance, Diaz thinks men are inherently bad at writing from a woman’s perspective (although improvement is possible). After he likened writing workshops to death matches between writers, he recommends you write for readers and not other writers. He believes readers are far more generous and forgiving. (As an example, he pointed to how Lord of the Rings lovers will put up with countless pages of “f*cking Elvish poetry”.) Diaz also will admit he is a slow writer. It takes 3-4 years for him to finish a 15-page short story.

To wrap up, I mentioned earlier that Diaz’s style is unique. Yet I will offer some comparisons to potentially help orient yourself. His writing reminded me favorably of both Gary Shteyngart's causal, humorous style and Jeffrey Eugenides’ beautiful, multi-generational story-telling. Plus in his acknowledgements, Diaz mentioned one of my literary crushes, Francisco Goldman. He actually called him Frankie G. And anyone who loves Frank is okay in my book.

*I read to learn. But if 90% of the references fly over my head, I become frustrated. For this reason, I never get far into The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana with its multitude of unfamiliar Italian culture references.
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
902 reviews1,809 followers
May 7, 2021
"That’s life for you. All the happiness you gather to yourself, it will sweep away like it’s nothing. If you ask me I don’t think there are any such things as curses. I think there is only life. That’s enough."

Have you ever met someone who tries very hard to fit in? Or perhaps sometimes you find yourself in situations where you try to fit in? You know how hard it is to be an outcast, know someone who is being one or perhaps your own experience. I think everyone has face this at one time or the other in their life. No matter how hard you try to not let the situation effect you but every time you step out it is humiliation, insecurities, and embarrassment.

Such is the life of our protagonist, Oscar Wao. A fat, ugly book geek who wants to have friends and a girlfriend, wants to be loved, be accepted as part of the society. Sadly, none of his wishes come true.

But this is not all this book is about. It is about Oscar's family. Their life in Dominican Republic, and how they came to USA. It is about his sister Lola and her relationship with him and his mother, his mother Belli's tragic story of being found on the verge of death to falling in love with the bad guy and again found herself near death, Belli's father whose falling out with Trujillo sent the family into difficult times, and the horrible times that Dominican Republic face when Rafael Trujillo was the ruler.

It was funny at times, sad and heartbreaking at others. There was something magical about Oscar and his family's courage and struggles that captivated me to read it till the end, to know what happened to these broken yet brave characters.

I loved Oscar and his story, and highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Annalisa.
547 reviews1,375 followers
September 22, 2012
These are the reasons I'm abandoning this book:

1. It's crude. And it's not just the overuse of the f word I'm over. The sex and violence is crude too. There's love that's personal and emotional and touches something deep down inside. And then there's banal sex that devalues human connection and emotion, the kind of thing someone who was desensitized to real relationships in preference of porn would write. This is the later. Even inexperienced Oscar's interest in women is banal and of no depth.

2. It's a whole lot of telling without much showing. All the "and then this happened" started to wear on me without getting at the heart of Oscar.

3. The tone is condescending and antagonistic and it made me defensive. I didn't enjoy reading this. I was interested in the Dominican history (if it wasn't fictionalized, not sure) and somewhat curious about what made Oscar's life brief, but not enough to wade through a bunch of trash to get there.

I asked for spoilers at my book club from the only person who managed to make it to the end (nobody else liked it) and it doesn't sound like the ending is rewarding enough (or at all) to suffer through it. Oftentimes I shelf a book on my did-not-finish shelf and think maybe someday I may return to it, but not this. I'm done.
Profile Image for Jason.
158 reviews46 followers
September 18, 2008
A lot of people seem to either hate or love this book. Most people get irritated with misleading title, the hard-to-follow narration/storyline, but mostly with the eclectic use of spanglish that is scattered throughout the book and with no footnote, i might add!!!

In an interview, Junot Diaz said that he offered up the Spanish without translation because he wanted to give English readers an idea of the immigrant experience. The spanish in this book reflects the immigrant experience. The alienation from a comprehensive control is just one of the fun themes.

The book is an explanation for Oscar, a Dominican-American boy who does not fit either title. Well, he’s not American because he’s Dominican. And he’s certainly not Dominican, because just look at him! The general male stereotype for Dominican males was, well,

this is a Dominican kid we’re talking about, in a Dominican family: dude was supposed to have Atomic Level G, was supposed to be pulling in the bitches with both hands. Everybody noticed his lack of game and because they were Dominican everybody talked about it.” Oscar describes himself: “the fat! The miles of stretch marks! The tumescent horriblesnes of his proportions! He looked straight out of a Daniel Clowes comic book. Or like the fat blackish kid in Beto Hernandez’s Palomar:

(this is a creepy Daniel Clowes comic called "The Sensual Santa" to give you an idea)

In contrast, Oscar (as well as his entire family) end up being at war with the actual creepy man, the ultimate Dominican stereotype, the sex fiend, Trujillo:

hiding your doe-eyed, large-breasted daughter from Trujillo, however, was anything but easy. (Like keeping the Ring from Sauron.) If you think the average Dominican guy's bad, Trujillo was five thousand times worse Dude had hundreds of spies whose entire job was to scour the provinces for his next piece of ass; if the procurement of ass had been any more central to the Trujillato the regime would have been the world's first culocracy (and maybe, in fact, it was)

What’s funny is that this is a book about sex. It is a book about the magic of sex and it’s object, how much it is saved up for in the minds of men who think only about sex, how much it can dominate culture, how much people can wear it and how much it can control. But if you think sex is all-powerful, imagine the people who epitomize it. This is an adventure into the man who believed sex was the be-all, end-all.

What a lot of people fail to realize in this unconventional storytelling, is that the story is very much unconventional as well. Here, the hero is a disenchanted, role-playing, lonely-hearted loser whose whole life has been a plague of his own people telling him he’s not one of them, and the people whose land he is in rejecting him because he is just so weird and ugly. The thing is, Diaz harnesses Oscar between the two cultures—this is done with a balance between the mystical and the fantastical.

The book is a history of life within the Trujillo regime through the context of one family (Oscar’s). The idea of Trujillo being more than human, an actual demon, whom if you cross curses your family for all existence is heavy. This kind of curse is known as the fuku. It dominates. It’s the kind of magical realism that Latin American writers are known for. And it is brilliant. But America doesn’t’ have magically real aspects to our society, all mysticism is waylaid on the fringe. Oscar’s story is a translation into the next best thing;

See, the book dabbles with magical realism but from the closest perspective we have of that in our culture, fantasy games. Oscar is emphatic about the Lord of the Rings, about Dungeons and Dragons and fantasy games galore. A lot of the allusions that are made deal with epic characters in these fantasies. In essence, his psyche remains Dominican, by the standard that his life is consumed by this mystic element. But nevertheless, he is still in America. He is still in the plain and ordinary life that only filters magic through games and television.

The book is about a kid alienated by two cultures who is really smart and affable, but unattractive and clingy. An affection starved derelict of the most erotically affectionate people on the planet.

He's get everything going the wrong way for him except for the fact that he is Dominican, but the mere fact that he is Dominican instantiates this curse, the magically real aspect of his life rather than the American fantasy. The fuku.

it is alienating to not know certain words or terms, like the many sci-fi references he makes throughout the book, but no more alienating than old literary references or presumptuous historical ones that so many classic writers do to augment their story. This is an original version of that same irritating pretentious alienation, and it is beautiful. because it forces you to go out your realm of ordinary thought and either research or imagine.

ah man, this isn't a very good review. I'll finish this later.
Profile Image for Darth J .
417 reviews1,264 followers
February 24, 2016

This book was recommended to me by my cousin so I thought I would like it. I was so wrong. All that's here is childish profanity, body-shaming, and portraying minorities is stereotypical ways. For an author who is so lauded, I am left confused at what he has to offer.

It all seemed so forced and inorganic for something that was supposedly based on the author's past that it felt like a poorly drawn cartoon that fifth graders would make as if they were aiming to create the next South Park.
Profile Image for David Abrams.
Author 14 books225 followers
April 10, 2008
Meet Oscar de Leon, dubbed "Oscar Wao" by bullies who liken him to the foppish Oscar Wilde. Our Oscar is a fat, virginal Dominican-American teenager who carries a Planet of the Apes lunchbox to school, spends hours painting his Dungeons & Dragons miniatures, and who knows "more about the Marvel Universe than Stan Lee." If Nerd was a country, Oscar would be its undisputed king. Oscar is the kind of kid—sweaty, mumbles to himself, inevitably invades personal space, probably has bad breath—we would avoid on the subway.

In Junot Diaz' debut novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, however, Oscar is the flame and we are the moths. An earnestly open-hearted protagonist, he draws us to him until we incinerate in the intensity of his character. He's a pitiful-but-hopeful loser we can all relate to, even the Prom Kings and Queens among us (who might just be the loneliest kids in school). The last time I was this absorbed by a fictional weirdo was in 1989 when John Irving's Owen Meany forced me--FORCED, I SAY!—to read his Prayer twice in rapid, thirsty succession. Oscar held me captive in much the same way with his sweaty, sticky fingers tightly gripping my attention.

Let's return to Diaz for a moment. To use the words "Diaz" and "debut novel" in such close proximity is something of a joke. Diaz has been a middleweight figure on the literary scene for eleven years, based almost exclusively on his previous (and only) book Drown, a collection of interconnected stories which, like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, chronicled the Dominican immigrant experience with a startling freshness. If you turn to the back flap of that 1996 book, you'll read an author bio which concludes with "He lives in New York City and is at work on his first novel." That was eleven years ago. To say that Oscar Wao was much-anticipated would be an understatement.

Why the long wait? Tick off the reasons on your fingers: writer's block, the paralysis of sudden fame at a young age (Diaz was in his late 20s when the accolades started flooding in), working for years on an apocalyptic novel about the destruction of New York City which was eventually trumped by the sur-reality of 9/11, not seeing anything on the blank wall which stares back at you unblinking, you name it. Little of that matters now, except as an interesting footnote of trivia, because today we hold in our hands the solid, substantial Oscar Wao. For a first novel, it's an impressive triumph.

Now back to Oscar. As the novel's title implies, this is the chronicle of Oscar's brief, candle-flame life and charts his quest, but rarely conquest, of girls. You see, not only is Oscar a Tolkein-loving, Star Trek-quoting, Dungeons & Dragons-playing geek, he's a horny geek whose tongue hangs out and eyes bulge in cartoon cones every time a pretty girl walks by. The only trouble is, as his friend Yunior points out, "Dude wore his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber." Save for one incredibly happy encounter late in his life, Oscar's lust is unrequited, but he takes this as a matter of course because he believes his family is living under the cloud of an Old-World curse called fuku, brought to our shores, he believes, by Columbus.

Despite wearing the family doom like a black, itchy sweater and meeting romantic rejection at every turn, Oscar optimistically journeys through the 1970s, "the dawn of the Nerd Age," Diaz writes. It's Oscar against the world and he glumly accepts his lot in life. "Everybody," he says at one point, "misapprehends me." As he grows older and retreats from his peers into the world of Lovecraft, Doc Savage, Asimov, Heinlein and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Oscar begins to think his destiny is to be "the Dominican Tolkein." He spends countless hours holed up in his room writing science-fiction and fantasy tales. If Diaz had allowed, Oscar probably would have spent eleven years working on his masterpiece; but, as we're always reminded, this is a brief life. Oscar tries to make the most of it, even with the fuku hanging over his head.

The novel is more than just a Nerd Epic, however. Diaz pulls out all the stops in an attempt to tell a all-encompassing story of immigration and assimilation. Oscar lives with his mother and sister in the ghetto of Paterson, New Jersey, and the novel is as much their story as it is his. We're just starting to groove with sympathy for fat little Oscar when Diaz suddenly shifts gears and takes us into the world of Lola, Oscar's beautiful, athletic sister who has a stormy relationship with their mother, Belicia, a "hardnosed no-nonsense femme-matador." Then, before too many more pages have elapsed, we're deep in that woman's story, in a long section of the book called "The Three Heartbreaks of Belicia Cabral," where we learn what happened to her back in the Dominican Republic to make her so bitterly protective of her children. These chapters, along with the rest of the book for that matter, really are filled with heartbreak, a transmogrification of fuku that shapes the course of everything to come, from Oscar's obsession with Shazam to Lola's runaway teen saga.

Diaz also proves to be something of a risk-taker. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao bravely assumes there is an audience of readers who will sit through a long novel in which the English and Spanish languages mingle without the author once stopping to translate the unfamiliar words. The gist of what the Spanglish phrases mean is pretty easy to pick up, and for those readers who absolutely have to know what guapa or chuleria mean…well, an English-Spanish dictionary is as close as the internet.

Diaz also assumes his readers will come to the table with some knowledge of Dominican history, specifically the tyrannical regime of Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961 and who, if Oscar is to be believed, was master of the fuku. Trujillo who? You know, the "portly, sadistic, pig-eyed mulato who bleached his skin, wore platform shoes, and had a fondness for Napoleon-era haberdashery." If your mind is as blank as mine when it comes to the island's past, never fear: Diaz replays the highlights of Santo Domingo History 101 in footnotes which annotate the novel. Yes, footnotes. The novel is peppered with them, as any well-respecting Screed of Nerd should be. Diaz knows most of us don't know squat about Dominicans and, as in Drown, he brings us briskly into the light. (Pay attention to Trujillo, though, because he plays an important role in Oscar's destiny.)

Diaz never lets the pace lag and his sentences remain fresh and sharp throughout. One woman is described with "eczema on her hands looking like a messy meal that had set"; later, Yunior describes how it feels to be mugged: "my guts feeling like they'd been taken out of me, beaten with mallets, and then reattached with paper clips." Through his wondrous use of language, Diaz brings the book alive and makes it tremble in our hands.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is an epic in the truest sense and in its fat, endearing hero's chest beats a Homeric heart. Oscar leads us through his unflagging quest for happiness, while Diaz tumbles us through a century of Dominican history and shows us how the brief life of one lonely boy can epitomize the immigrant experience. This novel was well worth the decade-long wait.
Profile Image for Giorgia Reads.
1,018 reviews2,081 followers
October 21, 2020
2.5 stars

Hmm, apparently this won the Pulitzer Prize and I’m a bit confused now because, although I’m not the best judge of literary greatness I can say with utmost certainty that I’ve read better books which received little to no recognition.

This is why I don’t trust literary prizes to recommend quality books. As much as I wanna quote the fact that literature is subjective and quality if judged much in the same vein, can be as well, I just can’t. There are books that the majority of people can agree are good (even if they might not be the biggest fans) and there are books that leave me wondering if I missed something, a spark of greatness that was just out of the reach of my comprehension.

But I’m rambling so let me get back to this book. It was a weird one. A few things I didn’t like: the style in which it was written (the ambiguous narrator- we learn about who he is but much later but this wasn’t done with any real purpose except to keep us in the dark I think), the many many stories about Oscar’s family and their long history (some of those just weren’t necessary), the magical realism which to be honest I could have done without, and the biggest annoyance of all was the fact that this whole book sounded like a big, fat pity party. I could not empathise with Oscar. He wasn’t a bad guy, on the contrary, but he also wasn’t a fighter. He accepted the condition of his life while hoping for more and when things didn’t work out he was just like “of course they didn’t, because I’m a fat, poor, virgin” (I’m massively paraphrasing - but that’s the gist).
I can guess why the book was so acclaimed though, it tried to be “different” although there have been similar examples in literature (none that I’ve read so far, but I’ve done my research after finishing this book) And different in literature is often linked to genius or hidden symbolism, I didn’t think this had neither.

What I did like was the perhaps authentic cultural and linguistic elements. That was my draw to this book. Most books which feature Latin characters are fraught with the struggle of immigration, talk about poverty and shattered dreams which are stories that need to be told but I would love to read a book which balances the good and the bad. This one seemed to pretty much say that resistance is futile and that some people will never succeed because they weren’t born in the right place, with the right face, without anything to make them outwardly special but that’s such a cynical way to look at life and this is coming from a self proclaimed cynic lol.

I don’t know, maybe I interpreted things the wrong way but I don’t feel like this added any value or a powerful voice to a minority as I believe was the intent.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews37 followers
July 16, 2021
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz

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, sexuality, 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.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز شانزدهم ماه جولای سال 2012میلادی

عنوان: زندگی شگفت‌انگیز اسکار وائو؛ نویسنده: خونو دیاز؛ مترجم: کیومرث پارسای؛ کرج: در دانش بهمن، ‏‫‏‏‏‏1389؛ در 382ص؛ شابک9789641741220؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان دومنیکن تبار ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21م

عنوان: زندگی کوتاه شگفت‌ انگیز اسکار وایو؛ نویسنده: خونو دیاس؛ ‏‫مترجم: نادر قبله‌ ای؛ تهران: نشر خزه، ‏‫1398؛ در 352ص؛ شابک9786229984598؛

نویسنده در «زندگی کوتاه و شگفت‌انگیز اُسکار وائو»، بر اساس تجربه‌ شخصی‌ خویش، برای به تصویرکشیدن مشکلات، و دغدغه‌ های خانواده‌ هایی که به «ایالات متحده» مهاجرت کرده‌ اند، به موازات قصه‌ ی زندگی قهرمان ناکام خود، تاریخچه ی خانوادگی، و نیز بخشی از تاریخ سرزمین پدری‌ وی را بازگو می‌کنند؛ «اُسکار» که هیچ‌کس حاضر نیست او را بپذیرد، و قهرمان بیگانه‌ ی قصه به شمار می‌آید، نمادی از مهاجرین زاغه‌ نشینی است، که دیگر نه در موطن خود جایی دارند، و نه در سرزمین مهاجر پذیر پذیرفته می‌شوند؛ و خانواده ی وی نیز، نمونه‌ ای از همان خانواده‌ هایی هستند، که پس از پشت سر گذاشتن تجربه‌ ی حکومت دیکتاتوری «تروخیو»، که در دهه‌ های چهل و پنجاه سده بیست میلادی، شهرها و روستاهای «دومنیکن» را، به کانون خشونت تبدیل کرده بود، در مواجهه با تمدن «ایالات متحده» دچار بلاتکلیفی فرهنگی می‌شوند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 25/04/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Julie G.
895 reviews2,918 followers
June 11, 2017
Junot Diaz has created a masterpiece here, an incredible tribute to Dominican culture and history, and let's face it. . . what in the hell did you know about Dominican anything before you read this book? Nada. Less than nada.

Chances are, unless you're Dominican, a Caribbean history buff or a fan of Julia Alvarez's, you know mierda about Trujillo or his reign of terror or how badly Dominican women have been treated.

And, if you haven't read this book. . . you don't know Oscar Wao, and that's a tragedy.

This book has flavor, it has history, it has imagination, it has science fiction, and, best of all, it has cojones.

Diaz, through his narrator, Yunior, presents to the reader a sassy and intelligent Voice that you never doubt, not for one moment. The stories here are as real as they are surreal. And the characters? Even flat on a page, they have souls.

Oscar and Yunior represent oppositional masculine forces that somehow combine harmoniously to create one perfect man. Lola and Beli represent the millenial-old scream of all oppressed women.

Oscar Wao is a modern day tragic hero, more lovable than Hamlet, and this book is better than black beans and rice with a side of fried yucca.
Profile Image for Fabian.
956 reviews1,623 followers
February 14, 2019
Because in my brain there is a sharp-edge precise hierarchy of the MODERN CLASSICS (read in the most recent years*), and because this book is newly minted therein:

3RD...........WORLD'S END

I mean, surely this is a book to join the others. It's about pretty much the same thing as those others: it deals with the Family Odyssey. Theme of the decade..? Half century? I subscribe to the belief that nowadays the family chronicle, the history that lives within a single human, event, thing... well, all that is what readers wanna read & Pulitzer givers prize.

Oscar Wao is about several things, but the main family curse, that which honors the BRIEF part (SPOILER ALERT this ain't) in the title, is the centerpiece. Golly how I love family curses (duh: American Gothic is about as cool, to me, as the French New Wave). Anyway, it all amounts to this: Oscar is unique not because he is a social pariah in many many many ways. He is unique because his family history is unique, rich, relevant. This would be a mixed media piece were it in an art gallery. This very dexterous Dominican-american author talks about the DR like Arenas talks about Cuba in "Antes que anochezca."

The sass, the voice, the whimsical style... this is what won the novel its many awards. People are impressed by this exciting work and to them all I say please read those on my list (mmm...places 1-3) before you hail this a masterpiece. It is almost one, and I will even say that it is way more readable, and yes, much more relevant to Mexico (and me) than the other aforementioned novels. That I read it in two days, only because I had to sleep... well, that says more about it than I can try to describe.

* circa late 2009, ten years ago!--this is HUGELY outdated, readers!
Profile Image for Nishat.
27 reviews416 followers
June 23, 2018
Junot Diaz’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao is an achingly beautiful, irresistibly harrowing depiction of Dominican Republic.

The twentieth century’s one of the most disreputable dictators, Rafael Trujillo exercised absolute power over Dominican Republic like a feudal lord from February, 1930 until his assassination in May, 1961. The longevity of his barbarous reign led to the slaughter of 50,000 Dominicans.

The author, Junot Díaz persuasively creates a brilliant parallel in the novel between supernatual events and the painful history of oppression and colonialism in the Dominican Republic.

Plagued by an ancient Dominican curse, the novel chronicles the life of Oscar Wao, a contemporary immigrant on an unlikely journey where his want of personal love may come to an justifiable end. This folklore tale of the search for redemption leads the reader through the darkest corners of a country under horrible dictatorial control.

The novel includes a significant amount of Spanglish and neologisms, as well as references to fantasy and science fiction films and books (LOTR). Containing elements of magic realism, the author explores our perception of masculinity, power of appearance, love, opression. The novel is also a commentary on story telling and the Dominic diaspora.

The multi-generations story, epic in scope, evolves around women who pitifully reflect the image of their battered country. Junot Diaz, through his direct, explanatory writing style, succeeds in giving the readers a precious glimpse at life before and after the dictatorship.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is Junot Diaz's debut novel that is devastating and triumphant in equal measure.
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 256 books408k followers
November 8, 2013
I am late to the party with Junot Diaz's work, but wow, what a book! This is realistic adult fiction, with interlocking stories tracing several generations of a Dominican family. I say 'realistic,' though it owes a debt of gratitude to the magic realism of Garcia Marquez and Borges. I knew very little about the Dominican Republic before reading this novel. Now I can't imagine how I got along without the wonderful voices and characters Diaz evokes. He tosses out literary, pop culture, geek, and Dominican Spanish references with equal gusto, and if you don't understand them all, don't worry. Just hang on and enjoy the ride. It all adds up to a rich stew with wonderful, unexpected flavors mixed together.
Profile Image for Dolors.
539 reviews2,278 followers
October 22, 2017
“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep...that have taken hold.” J.R.R. Tolkien.

Oscar Wao is a wonder of nature. A nerd. Weirdo. Freak. This is the story of an outcast and his travails. A free spirit who speaks in sci-fi gibberish and aspires to become the Dominican J.R.R.Tolkien. His isolation is as massive as his 307 pounds and his inglorious virginity. His intelligence as fierce as his lascivious gluttony. His wit as vigorous as his passion for books and his need for love and validation.
Life has never been easy for this obese, kind-hearted and ill-omened young man who lives with his scarred mother and his obstinate sister Lola in a crime ridden ghetto in New Jersey. He gulps down fear of rejection and his tremendous vulnerabilities and puts himself at risk with reckless abandon in a daredevil quest to find love, to feel joined to another human being, to project his long denied humanity in another person.
Beware of fukús though. These evil shadows, Mordor-like, lurk in every corner and have cursed Oscar’s family for generations, sending them to prison, exposing them to tragic accidents, condemning them to unbearable heartbreak.
Will this Dominican superstition obliterate the flickering candle of hope that casts light upon Oscar's doomed future?
Is there really a curse or only life and bad choices that can prove fatal?

Oscar simply got under my skin, tight and secretive as a plot.
In taking his hand one doesn't only sign up for an exotic stroll in the labyrinthine paths that delineate plural identity, eluding geopolitical and cultural boundaries but also for a journey into the collective memory of the Trujillo's dictatorship era and a glimpse into the muted crimes, corruption and genocide committed in the Dominican Republic of the sixties.
Junot Díaz’s acerbic use of the language, which fuses neologisms, slang jargon and transgressive humor creates a painfully labored illusion of spontaneity and fluency, a zeitgeist that reflects the multicultural menagerie of the New Jersey suburbs and the immigrant experience in a foreign land, which fosters without recognizing newcomers and alienates them from their native countries. Immigrants straddle two worlds, belong to none and are beset by both.

Written in English yet built upon underlying Spanish diction, Díaz’s prose in itself proves that no language, no culture, no race is ever pure and that people all over the world exist transversally above the artifice of draconian purity. The creative process of writing is presented as the ultimate expression to define Oscar’s forthright intertextuality where books, fictional characters and writers give reason to his otherwise miserable existence.
Told in the first person narrative by Yunior*, Lola’s boyfriend and Díaz’s alter-ego, and alternating past and present, history and literature, doom and promise, the story is unfolded from different perspectives enhancing the metafictional experience while disclosing subjacent plots such as the complexity of relationships in contemporary societies, the detritus of lives spent under constant physical and psychological strain endorsed by an abusive patriarchal hierarchy and the burden of serendipitous tyranny.

Life can become a curse or a blessing, Díaz whispers to the reader. Every choice has its own consequence. Human beings from everywhere will try to give answers to senseless questions through fukús, involving faceless mongooses and voodoo, believing fervently in angels and demons rather than in the theory of evolution or in identifying their lost ones reincarnated in white gulls surfing the sky waves of eternity. The wrapping might differ but the nest of mankind’s ignorance is essentially the same.
In the twilight of one’s consciousness, where ebbing lives are bathed in lulling moonbeams and canefields cuddle broken bodies, the unconcerned hobbit of this story draws a weary smile and takes pride in having acted following the stars of love and literature in a Universe where nothing ever ends and where one can always open a new book and find a new beginning.

“Nothing more exhilarating (he wrote) than saving yourself by the simple act of waking.” (201)


(*) My frustration with Yunior’s selfish attitude with Lola, his debasing use of totos and his failure at being a true friend to Oscar accounts for the lacking star.
Profile Image for Blaine.
781 reviews653 followers
November 14, 2022
As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I have a fukú story too. I wish I could say it was the best of the lot—fukú number one—but I can’t. Mine ain’t the scariest, the clearest, the most painful, or the most beautiful.
It just happens to be the one that’s got its fingers around my throat.

She should have kept running too but she beelined for home instead. Can you believe it? Like everybody in this damn story, she underestimated the depth of the shit she was in.

He wrote that he couldn’t believe he’d had to wait for this so goddamn long. (Ybón was the one who suggested calling the wait something else. Yeah, like what? Maybe, she said, you could call it life.) He wrote: So this is what everybody’s always talking about! Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is framed around the story of Oscar de León, a lonely, overweight Dominican-American young man who wants to be the next Stephen King and wants to have a love requited. But given the title, Oscar’s life is a surprisingly small piece of this novel. There are also sections that examine the lives of his sister Lola, his mother Beli, his maternal grandfather Abelard, and his roommate Yunior. Moreover, throughout the book there are discussions about the Dominican diaspora and the DR’s experience under dictator Rafael Trujillo, the Failed Cattle Thief himself. And threaded through the story is magical realism, and the idea of curses upon generations of a family or even an entire country:

No matter what its name or provenance, it is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fukú on the world, and we’ve all been in the shit ever since.

In lesser hands, what I’ve described could be a hot mess, but what Junot Díaz has done in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is captivating and brilliant. The writing is just stunning, sharp, observational, and full of energy. It is littered with fun pop culture references, and has the best use of footnotes since Infinite Jest. The characterization is great, leading to some scenes that are laugh out loud funny and others that are heartbreaking. Rather than a more conventional plot, Mr. Díaz uses those characters and their stories to explore the history of Latin America generally, and the DR specifically. To examine how to find your place in the world, despite heartbreak and loss. And most of all, there’s a deep examination of masculinity and machismo, how it can prevent men from having more satisfying relationships, and that there may be better ways for men to live.

I feel a bit silly hyping The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I mean, it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008. Just because I was tragically late to the party doesn’t mean you need me to tell you it’s a great book. But just in case you’re like me and somehow never got around to reading this one, do yourself a favor and read it. You won’t be disappointed. Highly recommended, especially the audiobook performed by the incomparable Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Profile Image for Nicole.
357 reviews157 followers
September 15, 2014
I cannot tell you how much I do not care about whether or not this kid gets laid.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,982 followers
March 10, 2021
3 to 3.5 stars

I did enjoy this book, but in the end I was left wondering what it was all for? It richly develops with lots of details to suddenly come to an end without anything really happening. Basically - here is Oscar's life, some background on why things are the way they are, and here's where it all ended up. The end.

If you like really detailed Historical Fiction, this is the book for you. There is a lot of very descriptive and thorough information about the political and social structure of the Dominican Republic in the mid-20th century. This is something you are really going to love if it is your thing, or it may bring the book to a halt (and cause a few DNFs) if it is not.

The overall language and the treatment of women in this this book is a sign of the times. If you have issues reading historically accurate but rude and crass language and behavior, proceed with caution. The n-word appears a lot and any inappropriate description of a woman you can think of can be found in these pages. Again, accurate to the time and place, but maybe something you should consider before reading.

Overall, a great Historical Fiction read, but the story and its seeming lack of purpose left me wanting more.
Profile Image for R.K. Gold.
Author 14 books10.1k followers
December 1, 2020
I wasn't expecting this book to be so sad. I'll be honest, when I first started reading the book I knew more about the author than the synopsis. I read one of his short stories in undergrad and always planned on reading this book but never got around to it. Always had a different excuse to not pick it up.

Well, I finally read it, and it was--it was something. The different perspectives, the family, the entire history and origin story of their curse and the island itself, no matter how far they were from it (even Japan) they were still connected to it. It was always a part of their identity, and a loud part at that, even when they hated it they wanted you to know they hated it.

There was just so much sadness in this story. Obviously Oscar's story was the most tragic, but his sister had her low points, his mother too. Many of the women on the island and in his high school class also suffered loss. A lot of the descriptions included just how guapo and guapa the characters were, almost like it was just another layer to a mask hiding the pain they're feeling. Like it was some sorta secret the story wanted to let the reader in on, that even pretty people feel pain, and in some cases a similar pain to Oscar who was far from pretty.

I can tell this is the kind of story that's going to sit with me for a while, and maybe I should've waited a day before writing this review. I'm not entirely sure how I should end this other than saying--you should probably read this book.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,536 followers
March 31, 2015
I have tended to neglect the Latin American masters of magical realism because of foolish biases in expectation. For my taste I stubbornly clung to a preference for outright science fiction or full-fledged fantasy over some half-way order of things or a sporadic supernatural or otherworldly force of causality in a narrative. But I am changing my ways under the onslaught of talented writers who make the magical realism approach work well. Like with this one, where Diaz gets me onboard already in the prologue with the nameless narrator explaining how this book is a “fukú story”, an example of a sort of karmic curse playing out endlessly since it was given birth in the New World with Columbus’ landing in Hispaniola. The clencher for me was his sleight of hand with the following:

It’s perfectly fine if you don’t believe in these “superstitions.” In fact, it’s better than fine—it’s perfect. Because no matter what you believe, fukú believes in you.

The tale that leads in this book is the life of Oscar at different times in his life. He is an overweight nerd who immigrated with his mother and sister from the Dominican Republic to Paterson, New Jersey, in the 60s. He has some nurturing and protection from his secretive mother and wild sister Lola, but his fatness, social ineptness, and geeky interests in comics, fantasy and sci fi, and, later, video games make it impossible for him to find love and assures he is an easy mark for bullies. We watch him develop, cringe over him as endless, fruitless crushes obsess him, and get hopeful over his throwing himself into writing as a sphere for success. As we follow him into college at Rutgers, where his sister studies, we can only be sad over how he has never grown up. But somehow Oscar is able to achieve a meaningful platonic relationship with a popular student he is smitten with, something his roommate has failed through his typical Don Juan type of pursuit.

And what was simply a childish escape into the fantasy of comics, “Lord of the Rings”, and “Dune” becomes a perfect medium later in life when he must comprehend the cruel legacy of Trujillo’s reign on his family and people. Actually, we get this overlay from the beginning by the narrator, who seems to be channeling Oscar. Tucked into a footnote on page two, we make the acquaintance of the dictator who held supreme power over the DR from 1930-61:

A portly, sadistic, pig-eyed mulatto who bleached his skin, wore platform shoes, and had a fondness for Napolean-era haberdashery … He was our Sauron, our Arawn, our Darkseid, our Once and Future Dictator, a personaje so outlandish, so perverse, so dreadful that not even a sci-fi writer could have made his ass up.

The overall thrust of Oscar’s story, which we can only guess will be brief and somehow wondrous, is interrupted by long interludes that paint the portraits of key members of his family’s lives. It will become clear that we cannot understand Oscar and that Oscar cannot become Oscar in isolation from that knowledge. His sister Lola runs away, experiences great passion and heartbreak, and gets in trouble before finally settling down. We follow the life of his mother, Belicia, who was even more a force of nature. She works in the with a bakery business while living under the strict but loving regime of an aunt, with no knowledge of who her real father. She is pretty and wild, and gets in trouble when she falls for the effete son of an evil military officer high in Trujillo’s power structure. She barely escapes with her life (a mystical mongoose, at least in her mind, had an important role to play). The next step is into the life of her father (Oscar’s grandfather), the surgeon and intellectual Abelard, a man blessed in the love of his wife and three daughters. How he stood up to the practice of Trujillo of taking and raping whatever teen daughter in his land that caught his eye is a true tale of superhero proportions. For Diaz to bear witness to this aspect of history through the tragedy of Abelard was powerful and disturbing. So easy to imagine fukú in action and that Belicia’s survival as some sort of miracle.

Oscar in his twenties ends up teaching high school English in Paterson, and in his despair he seeks more of his roots and identity and comes to spend more and more time in DR on breaks or summers. He falls in love yet once again. This time he has some hope of reciprocation. But despite Trujillo being long gone, fuku still lives, and Oscar is brave in facing its forces. The hidden narrator emerges more clearly now as his friend from college and Lola’s intermittent boyfriend, Yunior, who has told us that his writing of the story is a form of counter-fukú, which he calls zafa.

I was totally wowed (“Wao-ed”) by the craft and richness in this story, by the coming of age saga of both boy and mother, the immigrant experience of striving to fit in vs. need for cultural identity, and the pitting of the imagination against the real horrors of a corrupt state. I didn’t get a lot of the geeky references beyond Tolkien and Herbert and popular movies I had seen. That didn’t detract much. A lot of the Spanish interlacing in the book I wished I could have gotten more than what context revealed. One reader has made an annotated guide to these bottlenecks to full appreciation (http://www.annotated-oscar-wao.com/).

I learned by internet surfing that it took about 10 years for Díaz to write the book after a successful volume of short stories called “Drown” (a free story from this called Edson, New Jersey is available). Yunior is a character in a lot of these and is the protagonist of his 2012 novel “This is How You Lose Her”. I like his voice and his struggles with his macho ways, so I aim to read it (and a science fiction novel under construction). The ironic, self-deprecating humor shown by both Yunior and Oscar alike is an outlook I love. In a joint interview with Díaz and fellow writer and friend Francesco Goldman in the Christian Scientist Monitor, Diaz shares a lot on his struggles to achieve what I find as a perfect balance of light and dark in his book:

"Oscar Wao" more than any of my other works was a delicate balancing act – keeping the voice from becoming too funny or too bleak, too historical or too nerdish.

Junot Díaz, by Nina Sundin

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