Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love.
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- Pulitzer Prize
Reviewed by Matthew SharpeAreader might at first be surprised by how many chapters of a book entitled The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao are devoted not to its sci fi-and-fantasy-gobbling nerd-hero but to his sister, his mother and his grandfather. However, Junot Diaz's dark and exuberant first novel makes a compelling case for the multiperspectival view of a life, wherein an individual cannot be known or understood in isolation from the history of his family and his nation.Oscar being a first-generation Dominican-American, the nation in question is really two nations. And Dominicans in this novel being explicitly of mixed Taino, African and Spanish descent, the very ideas of nationhood and nationality are thoughtfully, subtly complicated. The various nationalities and generations are subtended by the recurring motif of fuke, the Curse and Doom of the New World, whose midwife and... victim was a historical personage Diaz will only call the Admiral, in deference to the belief that uttering his name brings bad luck (hint: he arrived in the New World in 1492 and his initials are CC). By the prologue's end, it's clear that this story of one poor guy's cursed life will also be the story of how 500 years of historical and familial bad luck shape the destiny of its fat, sad, smart, lovable and short-lived protagonist. The book's pervasive sense of doom is offset by a rich and playful prose that embodies its theme of multiple nations, cultures and languages, often shifting in a single sentence from English to Spanish, from Victorian formality to Negropolitan vernacular, from Homeric epithet to dirty bilingual insult. Even the presumed reader shape-shifts in the estimation of its in-your-face narrator, who addresses us variously as folks, you folks, conspiracy-minded-fools, Negro, Nigger and plataneros. So while Diaz assumes in his reader the same considerable degree of multicultural erudition he himself possesses--offering no gloss on his many un-italicized Spanish words and expressions (thus beautifully dramatizing how linguistic borders, like national ones, are porous), or on his plethora of genre and canonical literary allusions--he does helpfully footnote aspects of Dominican history, especially those concerning the bloody 30-year reign of President Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. The later Oscar chapters lack the linguistic brio of the others, and there are exposition-clogged passages that read like summaries of a longer narrative, but mostly this fierce, funny, tragic book is just what a reader would have hoped for in a novel by Junot Diaz.Matthew Sharpe is the author of the novels Jamestown and The Sleeping Father. He teaches at Wesleyan University.
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Showing 1-3 of the 3 most recent reviews
1 . loved it
Posted November 23, 2011 by Isabelle , Austinfunny, endearing, wonderful . . .
2 . Great book!
Posted February 26, 2010 by denise , bellmoreThis book was so interesting and amazing that I was not able to put it down. Diaz makes you feel like Oscar is someone that you actually know. great job.. Diaz!
3 . highly entertaining without losing any authenticity
Posted April 20, 2009 by cheekyNcharming , new york cityThis novel from beginning to end never loses the unique voice of Oscar Wao and his environment. From being a misfit in suburbia USA to not really understanding his "motherland" in visits to the Dominican Republic, we see his pain, joy, and growth as without any sense of fictional "screen". Oscar's challenges become the reader's challenges and his upbeat outlook on life keeps him going despite a difficult, misunderstood childhood. I was more that willing to follow Oscar through his musings, tangents and anywhere else in order to find out what happens to him. He could easily become a lost soul who destroys his life or one that pushes no matter what life throws at him. The plot continually twists and turns to make the reader wonder what's will really happen at the end. I also was extremely happy to hear that Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for his debut novel. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants a little something different, an entertaining novel that keeps you going or a little taste of Hispanic life in America.
September 05, 2007
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