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Review of the Books: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Updated on October 5, 2012
Cover of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Cover of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a novel by Junot Diaz that primarily focuses on the character Oscar de Leon; a young, heavy, nerdy Dominican whose family has immigrated to the United States. Along the way readers are introduced to his controlling mother Beli, his rebellious sister Lola, and the author's personal voice Yunior, and Oscar Grandfather Abelard who's personalities help capture what it was like living in the Dominican Republic in the 20th century and what it was like to immigrate to the United States.

The novel is broken into three parts and seven chapters, plus a final letter. Chapters follow the view points of various major characters throughout the novel, but most of them tell the story of Oscar and what life is like for Dominican's immigrating to the U.S. and what it was like living under the reign of psychotic dictator Trujillo, or Sauron, as Diaz likes to compare him to.

Major Characters From The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Character Name
The primary protaganist who's interests lie in fantasy, science-fiction, writing, and finding a girlfriend.
Oscar's sister, Yunior's friend. She has a rebellious personality and frequently clashes with her mother.
Oscar and Lola's mother. She immigrates to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic where she was in trouble with the members of Trujillo's regime.
Is Lola's friend and later he is Oscar's roomate in college. He is a womanizer, but like Oscar he also aspires to write.
Oscar and Lola's grandfather, and Beli's father. He is highly successful during the reign of Trujillo. The fuku in Oscar's family begins here.
La Inca
Refered to as Oscar and Lola's grandmother, but she is really their grandmother's cousin. She raises Beli and later helps to raise Lola.

Plot Summary of the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Oscar grows up in both the Dominican Republic and later in the United States. At the beginning of the novel the narrator introduces us to the concept of fuku (curses) and zafa (counter-curses), and then begins to tell us that Oscar's family, like most Dominican families believe in fukus and that Oscar's family has a fuku of their own.

The story introduces us to Oscar, who has a couple of goals, one of them is to be a successful writer, at one point he mentions he wants to the J.R.R. Tolkien of the Dominican Republic, and he wants to fall in love, have sex, and have a girlfriend. Due to his being overweight, the fact that he has poor communication skills, and has an obsessive interest in fantasy and science fiction he has found it nearly impossible to find a girlfriend. His inability to find love causes him to slip into deep depressions.

As the novel progresses readers are introduced to narratives that focus on Oscar's family and the origin of their fuku. This includes chapters that focus on Lola, Oscar's sister, and relationship with her mother which is strained and extremely disfunctional; Beli, Oscar's mother and her life growing up during the ending days of Trujillo's reign in the Dominican Republic; Abelard, Oscar's grandfather, that tries to raise his family during the early days of Trujillo's reign; and Yunior, Lola's friend and Oscar's roommate in college, who is also an aspiring writer and is very promiscuous.

The combination of these characters provides deep insight into the immigration experience in the United States, while also explaining how surreal and brutal it was living under the dictatorship of Trujillo.

Book Information

Junot Diaz
2007 Riverhead Books
Country of Origin
United States
Original Language
English, with some Spanish
The United States and Dominican Republic
Mostly 3rd Person with some brief moments of 1st and 2nd person
340 (softcover)
The National Book Critics Circle Award 2007, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008, John Sargent, Sr. First Novel Prize, and the Dayton Peace Prize in Fiction,

Positives Qualities From the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a story that uses a lot of interesting devices to convey its messages about Dominican life and American life for immigrants. The device that stands out the most is Diaz's use of prose. This novel combines slang with Latin-American Spanish, and nerdy fantasy talk to tell a story, which is very unique combination. Here is an example of the prose that dominates the book, early on this is where Diaz describes the reign of Dominican dictator, Trujillo:

"A portly, sadistic, pig-eyed mulato who bleached his skin, wore platform shoes, and had a fondness for Napoleon-era haberdashery, Trujillo (also known as El Jefe, the Failed Cattle Thief, and Fuckface) came to control nearly every aspect of the DR's political, cultural, social, and economic life through a potent (and familiar) mixture of violence, intimidation, massacre, rape, co-optation, and terror; treated the country like it was a plantation and he was the master. At first glance, he was just your prototypical Latin American caudillo, but his power was terminal in ways that few historians or writers have ever truly captured or, I would argue, imagined. 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." - Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

In addition to the unique combination of styles that make up the prose, the novel also uses footnotes to explain some of the historical information that relates to the story, most of which is about the Dominican Republic. Although the footnotes interrupt the story, the back-story and history they provide are essential to telling about the Dominican experience.

At the heart of the story is the characters and their experiences. Oscar's obsession with writing and fantasy is inspiring, his search for love and romance is endearing, and his failures are heartbreaking. Yunior's relationship with Oscar and their opposite personalities adds a comedic aspect that helps to break the tension that has been building throughout the novel. Lola and Beli's strong, fierce, and rebellious personalities echo one another, and make their conflicting relationship all the more tragic.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Is Recommended For...

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a book that is about the American and Dominican experiences. If you are looking for a multicultural book then this book might be perfect for you. The formatting of the book and the way it is laid out from the changing narration styles, to the unique prose, and the addition of footnotes will give the culture clash a new and different feel from previous books that discuss two different cultures.

For people that only speak English, this book as a number of Spanish phrases and sentences thrown together throughout the book with no translations. This means you might need to get a Spanish-English dictionary or you might need to find a translating website.

This book comes highly recommended to everyone. It provides a new perspective about the United States and immigration, while also opening the door on the history and life styles of the Dominican Republic. With a versatile story, engaging characters, and a fictional plot-line that very closely echoes reality, a powerful story unfolds in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

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