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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

by Junot Díaz

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
11,525448424 (3.85)1 / 622
Things have never been easy for Oscar. A ghetto nerd living with his Dominican family in New Jersey, he's sweet but disastrously overweight. He dreams of becoming the next J.R.R. Tolkien and he keeps falling in love. But poor Oscar may never get what he wants, thanks to the ancient curse that has haunted his family for generations.… (more)
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» See also 622 mentions

English (439)  French (4)  Danish (1)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Catalan (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (448)
Showing 1-5 of 439 (next | show all)
There is no question that Junot Diaz has a strong and interesting voice. I really liked the structure of this novel and the way the interesting tidbits about the history of Trujillo and the Dominican Republic are woven throughout the story. I didn't love the way that Diaz writes women -- he writes like a man who is has a deep sexual interest in women, but doesn't really know their inner workings all that well. Despite that, the characters were interesting enough that it carried the story along nicely. ( )
  amerynth | Jun 12, 2021 |
Lucky there is Google Translate, or I would not be able to make sense of the liberal Spanish littered throughout the text. But having understood the Spanish, I must say that it is cleverly used. Diaz also used footnotes to elaborate on the history of the Dominican Republic. You have a choice to read the footnotes, which can be rather lengthy and interrupts the story's flow. If you don't, it doesn't affect your understanding of the story. Here, Oscar Wao leads a sad life. He is grossly fat, doesn't have friends, and does a job he doesn't like. But he is single-minded and eventually dies for the woman he loves. You have to feel a tad touched. ( )
  siok | May 2, 2021 |
Just couldn't get into it. ( )
1 vote KittyCunningham | Apr 26, 2021 |
I once heard Junot Diaz speak, and thought he was fantastic. And of course, I'd heard all the hoopla about his writing, both [This Is How You Lose Her] and [The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao]. Then accusations came out in 2018 of Diaz harassing women and generally showing misogyny. Disappointing but not necessarily surprising in the years of #metoo. I found a copy of [This Is How You Lose Her] at the local thrift store (along with [Maus]). So I figured I'd pick it up and check out his writing for myself.

[This Is How You Lose Her] is a series of 9 stories, mostly revolving around Yunior, the Dominican American protagonist. This book felt semiautobiographical in the sense that Yunior and Diaz were both born in the Dominican Republic, emigrated to New Jersey at a young age, became professors of writing, etc. Write what you know, I guess. The book felt a little experimental. Four stories were written in the first person (The Sun, the Moon, the Stars; The Pura Principle; Invierno; The Cheater's Guide to Love). One was written mostly in third person with occasional first person narrator commentary/reaction (Nilda). Three were written in second person--two directed inward--the narrator addressing himself (Alma, Miss Lora), and one directed outward--the narrator addressing the lover profiled in that particular story (Flaca). One bewilderingly was a first-person female narrator, and the story appeared to have nothing to do with any other story or character in the book (Otra Via, Otra Vez).

The stories move back and forth through time, from the childhood arrival to the United States (Invierno) to presumed present day as a university professor (The Cheater's Guide to Love) and various points in between. The prose is an evocative Spanglish blend that does a great job of expressing Yunior's inner life. The stories mostly center on Yunior's and his older brother Rafa's sexual exploits: the women they fuck, the personal consequences of infidelity, how these women came and went from Yunior's life. To a lesser degree, they explore the family dynamics between the brothers and with each of their parents, and neighborhood dynamics. Racism is present and referenced both directly and indirectly but not the focus of any of these stories, instead just peppering the scenes with some sociocultural context.

Frankly, this book is the most dehumanizing toward women that I can remember reading. The women are evoked in the most sexually objectifying terms and appreciated in the narrative pretty much for whatever sexual gratification they can offer the male characters. This is partly why the completely unrelated story from a woman's perspective is so bizarre. Like, why is that even in there? And that story raises more questions than it answers--the story centers on multiple women, and the one man in the story feels more like a cipher, plus it places the narrator in juxtaposition with her lover's wife left behind in the DR to what effect? I left that story with no sense of resolution at all. And yet for all that, the inner life of the women still feels opaque, though more visible than in any of the stories told by Yunior. The closing story focuses on the personal devastation of losing his fiancee as a result of his serial cheating and the feeble attempts to pick up the pieces. Clearly, the woman at the heart of this story is central, and yet this longest story in the collection never names her. It kinda reminds me of The Bride in Kill Bill. Not a single male character in any of the stories appears as anything other than a womanizer. Well, maybe the white boy neighbor in the story centering on the childhood arrival in New Jersey who makes brief appearances as part of the unobtainable Americanness. Basically, all the Dominican men are assholes, and most of the women are sluts ("sucias").

The misogyny goes beyond the sex, though. Yunior's mother is present in several stories. She is someone to be ignored, belittled, gone around. Diaz even has Yunior reference male privilege at one point. But damn, from his youngest appearance in these stories, he and his brother just completely dismiss or invalidate anything their mother has to say to them. I guess she's portrayed sympathetically, or at least as sympathetically as a deeply misogynist narrator can manage. Yikes.

Is Diaz a talented writer? Yes. Are these stories worth reading? Maybe. Maybe not. I don't regret the time spent, but I think I'll skip [The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao]. I appreciated the colorful prose and engaging dialogue, but I could do without the exploitation of women as the vehicle for experiencing what Junot Diaz has to offer the reader. ( )
1 vote justchris | Apr 17, 2021 |
I wanted to love this book, but it did not happen... I kept searching for the missing element that would have made me enjoy this book better, but came to the conclusion that it was the overly excess of practically everything that finally tired me of it. It was just too much: too much violence, too much stereotyping, too much Spanish, too much info in the footnotes....

It could be a case of the wrong book at the wrong time, as I am usually drawn to books with an experimental quality but, in any case, Juno’s writing did not captivated me. I should try some of his short-stories, as I feel that I would like his writing in smaller doses.
( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 439 (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 (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Junot Díazprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bragg, BillCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Corral, RodrigoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pareschi, SilviaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Snell, StaciNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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)
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.
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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Some editions contain the short story "Drown," narrated by Jonathan Davis
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Canonical DDC/MDS

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Wikipedia in English (4)

Things have never been easy for Oscar. A ghetto nerd living with his Dominican family in New Jersey, he's sweet but disastrously overweight. He dreams of becoming the next J.R.R. Tolkien and he keeps falling in love. But poor Oscar may never get what he wants, thanks to the ancient curse that has haunted his family for generations.

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