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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (edition 2008)

by Junot Diaz

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8,465354363 (3.86)1 / 499
Member:xuesheng
Title:The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Authors:Junot Diaz
Info:Riverhead Trade (2008), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 339 pages
Collections:1001 Books, Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:fiction, own, 1001 books, read(2013), 13 in 13, New Jersey, USA, Dominican Republic, Trujillo, curse, Pulitzer

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

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English (344)  French (4)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Catalan (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (354)
Showing 1-5 of 344 (next | show all)
This book surprised me and was not at all what I expected. Written in a unique way with such prose and elegant language, also in Spanish which the author believes and trust his audience to be able to read and understand. The story is of Oscar Wao and the generations before him struggling with a superstition know as the fuku. The stories that ensue are heartbreaking but up lifting. Oscar, undesirable by every girl imaginable but a complete romantic. The book reminds of all of our true fault of love and what it does to us, who it makes us act, and how it can affect us in such devastating ways. This book was funny, witty, as well as a culture shock into the world of the Dominican Republic of the time. I would truly recommend this book to everyone awaiting an experience the never thought possible with a book. ( )
  alejandro.santana | Jul 2, 2015 |
There are books that, by their strange confluence of disparate topics, felt as if they'd been written for me and a few hundred or a few thousand others. Oscar Wao isn't one of those, but for some people, it sure as hell will be. (Why aren't their reviews near the top?) I've friends who'd get so much more - more laughs, especially - out of the multitude of geek culture references: used as sophisticated metaphors, not just casual namedropping. A lot of it's Tolkien, Marvel, DC, old RPGs, but plenty more besides, whatever stuff a great big nerd in the US in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s could get his mitts on. Yeah, I recognised a lot of the terms, but "that thing so-and-so mentioned in a review last year" doesn't make a metaphor like having actually seen and read about the character, the place, whatever, first hand. But AFAIK none of those friends are fluent in Latin American Spanish, which is maybe 10% of the book. A bit of UK school [Castilian] Spanish helps with yer basic 'hija' and 'qué pasó' and 'guapo', though the Dominincan slang isn't even in my old Spanish dictionary. However, in the eight years since Oscar Wao was published, a handful of online glossaries have been posted: this, whilst far from perfect in what it says and what it misses out, is reasonably comprehensive. Díaz included so much Spanish slang to give the average American reader an idea of the experience of an immigrant whose English isn't that good... the imperfections of the glossary, those noticeable and not, still create some of that whilst removing quite a lot of the potential frustration. (Bothering to look for it, and finding it - whilst seeing quite recent reviews from frustrated Anglo readers who hadn't - made me muse on the rapid rise of the immigrant branch of my own family, people who no doubt had the nous to do equivalents of finding that page, and far more, and many times over, for many different things.) Using a guide like that site does mean being tied to the computer; it's ridiculous to print out 50-odd pages - unless perhaps you're studying the novel as a set text - so the plan of 'book set in hot country --> read outdoors in summer' didn't really work.

Those who, unlike some of the negative reviewers, actually read past the first chapter, will find that the novel isn't just about the titular obese nerd, it's also the story of his sister Lola, their mother Belicia, her aunt La Inca, his mate Yunior, and Oscar's grandfather Abelard. Some friends will know that I've usually very little time for American family sagas, as regardless of the characters' backgrounds, they end up the same bland mush. I can't quite understand the Nabokov comparisons, but the style does have more verve than average, without losing a general readability. And this book's refusal to compromise culturally made it infinitely more interesting: the Spanish, and the detailed, footnoted references to the politics and history of the Dominican Republic. (I'm always disappointed by Anglicised proverbs and the like in translations - so this was perfect.) It is still a book meant for readers who know little about the country: but as, unlike the many Anglo-American novels about Indian families, it deals with a country rarely covered in English-language fiction, it's less of a cliche for it to have an educational side. Its use of stereotypes is, I suspect, knowing: one of the main narrators, Yunior, is a cocky young lad, and so his generalisation of the DR as a whole country of lotharios could be taken as a slight exaggeration, and a reflection of himself.

Oscar's looks like it's going to be the typical nerd story that launched a thousand so-so Hollywood comedies, though it turns out to have different tropes. A few people mention A Confederacy of Dunces, which I've not read. I also noticed quite a bit of Don Quixote. Language, well, duh. Though mostly for living too much in books and fantasy worlds and coming a cropper because of it. I hadn't previously thought of Quixote as relating to one of the big subjects of geek feminism: obsessively persistent nerdboys who pester girls out of their league (though often they're described as so obnoxious they don't have a league, they're not even good enough for Conference). But yeah: people of whatever gender who've got unrealistic ideas about relationships via media are Quixotes of a sort, at least until they manage to grow out of it. Wao has an annoying trajectory I've seen in at least one other recent novel on this subject: rewarding it and undermining the satirical idea; also, people who are already a bit that way don't need any more reinforcement.

Wherever it was I saw it said that Junot Díaz writes female characters well, I agree, especially re. Lola and Belicia. They're not typical, and they're believable, especially within the somewhat heightened world of this novel. I admired Lola a lot, though that kind of person who was really rebellious as a teenager despite strict parents... I've never knowingly met one socially. Though it stands to reason they exist somewhere IRL. (It was so much easier just to sit tight as much as I could stand it and wait to be free later, rather than trying to cope with even more shouting.) And teenage Belicia's massive ego: hurt characters like her, especially women, don't often have one, though they could: there's her pouring of that latent arrogance into her newfound adolescent looks, then the way she's stymied by her own emotion: She learned that despite all her dreams to... have the brothers jumping out of windows in her wake, when Belicia Cabral fell in love, she stayed in love*... in her heart our girl was more Penelope than Whore of Babylon. I've never been great at fitting in with groups of women so no surprise there's a few things I personally find hackneyed but untrue - yet overall these ladies are a great bunch of matriarchs, strong and sometimes a bit crazy, who strike more of a chord with my experience of family than does the typical paterfamilias structure of the average recent-historical novel.
I wasn't all that convinced by the character of Ybón, however - but can't say I've met many people who'd be a fair benchmark.

Honestly, just talking about the family is absurd - it ignores the [psychologically] largest presence haunting the novel: midcentury dictator Rafael Trujillo and his monstrous regime. The Cabrals talk of their fuku or family curse, but it's also an intergenerational trauma that starts with Trujillo, and grandfather Abelard's attempts to outwardly toe the party line whilst inwardly thinking quite differently. ('Oscar Wao' - a deliberate mispronunciation of Wilde - is a slur used by bullies about the title character. Abelard's refusal, or dithering, over opportunities handed to him to flee abroad with his family whilst there's still time, are more rightly reminiscent of Wilde.) The family's existence under Trujillo has plenty of similarities to stories set under Eastern Bloc communism, the justifiable paranoia for one - but there are distinct horrors of its own; Abelard ends up in trouble because he hid his beautiful daughter from the predatory dictator. By and large the writing gives a general sense of oppression without being overly graphic, though my nervous system is still raw from reading of Abelard's eventual fate, even without fine detail. (Not the same as the medieval Abelard, in case you wondered.)

It's such a long time since I read Marquez, so I don't know if this is correct, but I kept thinking of One Hundred Years of Solitude when the fatedness of most people in this novel arose. There isn't outright fantasy here - that's all in Oscar's head - but there is certainly a lot of uncanny luck, good and bad. And sense of fated progression: now these characters have met, so their children will exist. Was it right to remember White Teeth here? There was other, even vaguer déjà vu from other books I can't place; and specific scenes, like running into cane fields, felt familiar from somewhere.

All in all, the book is a crafty combination of familiar elements of approachable middlebrow litfic - the immigrant family saga, switching narrative focus between characters, a past of political oppression abroad, Hollywood tropes in the youngest generation's personalities - with a better than average style of writing and a very intense use of subcultures and foreign language that elevate it into a lot more than it might have been in the hands of a more timid or conventional writer.

* for a few years, anyway... ( )
1 vote antonomasia | Jun 29, 2015 |
I really love generational books like One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Although The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao isn't quite as epic as the two that I mentioned, it still gave me that appeal. And perhaps I think that's why I enjoyed the book as much as I did.

One thing that I think might turn a lot of people off to this book is the use of Spanish thrown into the dialogue and the narrative. If I had never taken a single Spanish class in my life, I think that I might have had a much more difficult time getting into the story when given information that I can't even understand. But hey…with my basic background in Spanish that I took in high school, it was more than enough to not only understand most of what was being said, but to also be able to catch the subtle jokes here and there.

And speaking of background knowledge, any science fiction fan would also have a blast catching all the references here and there. There were a few that I didn't quite get, but knowing what fantasy and sci-fi is all about, I think I caught the gist of it.

Finally, there was the lack of quotation marks. Most books, I would find that really troublesome. It's really meant to help the reader get the flow of the narrative and not get confused when characters are talking to one another. However, Junot Diaz does a wonderful job doing getting the dialogue across without the necessity of these bulky quotation marks. Why populate the novel with such trivial pieces? His prose and voice is distinct, I felt, and the lack of quotation marks actually helped the flow of the overall book.

For a wonderful read about the brief, wondrous life of Oscar Wao, give this one a try. ( )
  jms001 | Jun 14, 2015 |
I'm constantly coming back to this book. I love its underlying theme of the perpetuating curse, the power of the stories (and histories) we tell ourselves. ( )
  ruinedmap | May 19, 2015 |
Interesting premise and entertaining narration with fascinating (and sometimes depressing) footnotes. I really enjoyed the characters, especially Wao himself. This is definitely a worthwhile read, but too dark and intense for my taste. ( )
  sandye33 | May 19, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 344 (next | show all)
Díaz’s novel also has a wild, capacious spirit, making it feel much larger than it is. Within its relatively compact span, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” contains an unruly multitude of styles and genres. The tale of Oscar’s coming-of-age is in some ways the book’s thinnest layer, a young-adult melodrama draped over a multigenerational immigrant family chronicle that dabbles in tropical magic realism, punk-rock feminism, hip-hop machismo, post-postmodern pyrotechnics and enough polymorphous multiculturalism to fill up an Introduction to Cultural Studies syllabus.
 
It is Mr. Díaz’s achievement in this galvanic novel that he’s fashioned both a big picture window that opens out on the sorrows of Dominican history, and a small, intimate window that reveals one family’s life and loves. In doing so, he’s written a book that decisively establishes him as one of contemporary fiction’s most distinctive and irresistible new voices.
 

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Junot Diazprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Snell, StaciNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Of what import are brief, nameless lives . . . to Galactus?? (Fantastic Four, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Vol. 1, No. 49, April 1966)
Christ have mercy on all sleeping things!
From that dog rotting down Wrightson Road
to when I was a dog on these streets;
if loving these islands must be my load,
out of corruption my soul takes wings,
But they had started to poison my soul
with their big house, big car, bit-time hbohl,
coolie, nigger, Syrian, and French Creole,
so I leave it for them and their carnival--
I taking a sea-bath, I gone down the road.
I know these islands from Monos to Nassau,
a rusty head sailor with sea-green eyes
that they nickname Shabine, the patois for
any red nigger, and I, Shabine, saw
when these slums of empire was paradise.
I'm just a red nigger who love the sea,
I had a sound colonial education,
I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me,
and either I'm nobody, or I'm a nation.
(Derek Walcott)
Dedication
Elizabeth de Leon
First words
They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles.
Quotations
You wanna smoke?
I might partake. Just a little though. I would not want to cloud my faculties.
“They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fukú americanus, or more colloquially, fukú–generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World. Also called the fukú of the Admiral because the Admiral was both its midwife and one of its great European victims; despite “discovering” the New World the Admiral died miserable and syphilitic, hearing (dique) divine voices. In Santo Domingo, the Land He Loved Best (what Oscar, at the end, would call the Ground Zero of the New World), the Admiral’s very name has become synonymous with both kinds of fukú, little and large; to say his name aloud or even to hear it is to invite calamity on the heads of you and yours.”
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0739494287, Paperback)

Brief biographical study.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:23 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Oscar, an overweight Dominican from a New Jersey ghetto, dreams of becoming a writer and finding love, but a Fuku curse has haunted his family for generations, and may well prevent him from attaining his desires.

(summary from another edition)

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